Twenty start-ups from around the world are competing for the $1 million Shengjing Global Innovation Award, and the potential for venture capitalists and incubators to invest in their companies.
Three start-ups from Israel as well as tech firms from the US, Latin America, Europe and China will vie for the prize being awarded by Shengjing360, a Chinese training and consulting group.
The competition is open to start-ups in the fields of cybersecurity, big data, Internet and mobile, enterprise software, storage, fintech, IoT (Internet of Things), wearable computing and digital health. Candidates have until April 30 to apply in their region after which they will go through a rigorous judging process to decide which applicants travel to the finals, to be held in Beijing in August.
“We came to Israel for the first time two years ago, and we knew almost nothing about the country, other than it had some good potential technology,” said Xueling Cao, Director of the Shengjing Group and Shengjing Fund of Funds, at a gala event Monday in Tel Aviv. “Now we realize the level of Israeli innovation, and how important partnering with Israel is.”
China sees Israel as not only a business partner, but as a strategic one, added Xueling, and that the objective is to build a triumvirate to connect Israel, China and the US — Israel with its innovation, the US being the largest market in the world, and China the second largest, along with great production capacity.
“If we can connect the three countries, we will be able to create a great chemistry, with each helping the other to grow and advance,” emphasized Xueling
That objective, said Xueling, is one important reason Shengjing is awarding $1 million to the top winner; nine runner-ups will receive cash prizes of varying amount from another $500,000 Shengjing is committing to the contest.
In Israel, the contest is being co-sponsored by Shengjing and Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), along with Deutsche Telecom, EMC, Yissum (the Hebrew University technology transfer company), the Herliya Interdisciplinary Center and the Herzog Fox & Neeman (HFN) law firm. Together, they will review the start-ups from Israel, from which the finalists will be chosen. As Israel is considered a region by itself for the purposes of the contest, the three Israeli start-ups will advance to the finals.
Xueling said she is very hopeful that an Israeli company wins. “But even if they don’t win, they will be able to take advantage of a $50 million venture capital fund Shengjing will be setting up to actualize our vision of taking Israeli technology global,” she said.
For Israel, the advantages in pursuing a relationship with China are obvious, said JVP General Partner Kobi Rozengarten.
Speaking to The Times of Israel, Rozengarten said that there are risks in doing business with China, but the rewards are worth the risks. For Israel, China is just too big a market to miss out on.
“There really is a great synergy between Israel and China,” said Rozengarten. They respect Jews and Israelis a great deal for their intellectual accomplishments, and China has access to the big Asian markets, which are very important for the growth of Israeli companies.”
After observing the difficulties many American firms have had working with China, many Israeli entrepreneurs were initially wary of getting too close to the Asian giant, Rozengarten added: “American firms tried very hard to make a go of it in China and many were unable to, losing money or failing to attract customers, mostly because they couldn’t get Chinese partners to cooperate with them.”
That, Rozengarten said, was the result of the failure of American firms to understand China. “The American firms tried to reach Chinese consumers directly, competing with the locals on their own turf. Israel doesn’t have this problem; most of Israel’s involvement is on a business-to-business level, working with Chinese manufacturers or tech firms to improve their technology and services.”
That, Rozengarten said, is the kind of cooperation the Chinese want – and need. “For the Chinese, it’s all about business, and we have the technology that can help them. That’s why they come here, and that’s a big opportunity for us.”