'Generation tech' looks to startups to boost employment options

Updated: 2015-10-25 17:07

By Su Zhou(chinadaily.com.cn)

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Like many students, who skip class they don't want to take, Pu Lei often decided to stay home and miss school. However, unlike most of his peers, he spent the time developing a mobile application that allows students to swap classes and maintain good attendance records.

"Take me for an example, I like computer science. However, I could only enroll for a major in physical education. I found a lot of the classes were boring," said the 24-year-old from Chengdu, Sichuan province, who graduated from Neijiang Normal University in July last year.

Pu's app allows registered students to post class information, and other students can apply to take the class on their behalf. They negotiate terms between themselves, and some attend classes for free, while others charge a small fee.

Pu said the team was dismissed in early 2014. However, he still learnt a lot from it and laid foundation for his second startup project of e-commerce.

"We started our business in Chengdu in 2012 and introduced our product at the end of 2013. I have to say, the environment for Internet startups was not as healthy as it is now when many small, unique apps can become very popular almost overnight. Back in 2012, that was ‘mission impossible'," Pu said.

He believes that the climate for startups in Chengdu has improved markedly in the past four years, partly as a result of measures introduced under the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15), designed to provide a leg-up for young tech industry entrepreneurs.

"Initial funding, office rent, research and development funding — these are challenges that all startups face, but local government policies helped us to share the burden," he said.

"Platforms where startup entrepreneurs can share their thoughts and meet investors also provided many opportunities," he said, with reference to online forums and events at brick and mortar meeting places.

As early as 2010, the central government was releasing documents warning that traditional channels were incapable of providing jobs for many people in the younger generation, and urging graduates to start their own businesses.

Starting in 2011, the first year of the 12th Five-Year-Plan, central and local governments rolled out a raft of policies to support startups, not only for graduates, but also for students on campus, overseas returnees and even expats.

Financial support

On Dec 10, last year, the Ministry of Education published guidelines that ordered all universities and colleges to support student startups by providing training courses and financial support. The colleges were also required to implement flexible marking systems to allow students to suspend their studies while they tried to establish their businesses.

The central government has also stepped up policy support for new, innovative businesses via a range of measures, including simplifying registration procedures and offering subsidies.

Since taking office in 2012, Premier Li Keqiang has encouraged young people to become entrepreneurs. On Oct 19, at the start of a week-long innovation expo in Beijing, Li said innovators are "the heroes of our time".

Now, starting a business has become a popular trend, a far cry from the days when startups were regarded as risky ventures embarked upon by a small number of foolhardy people.

Last year, the number of new company registrations surged to 3.65 million, a year-on-year rise of almost 46 percent, according to Xinhua News Agency.

Chen Yu, vice-president of the China Association for Employment Promotion, said encouraging young people to start their own businesses is a good idea because innovation is a key driver of national development.

Startups can also help to create jobs. Yang Xiaohui, Party chief of Northeast Normal University, said that an average one-graduate startup can create 3.63 jobs, and an average startup company can create 16.72.

Chen issued a word of caution, though, saying people should not raise their expectations too high, or expect success to arrive quickly and easily.

"Some geniuses in the Internet industry have worked miracles, but that's not the whole story. Lack of experience and poor networking skills can pose formidable obstacles."

Mai Gang, founder of Ventures Lab, an angel investor in startups, said successful startups require a lot of hard work and warned that the failure rate of startup projects is high. "The rewards can be fantastic, but young people really need to think about whether they are suited to this career move. Many make it, but not everybody."