China 'the place to be' for entrepreneurs

Mr Calvin Cheng, who is co-chairman of China-based education tech firm Retech Technology, entered China in 2011 when he realised that the Singapore market, on its own, was "far too small".
Mr Calvin Cheng, who is co-chairman of China-based education tech firm Retech Technology, entered China in 2011 when he realised that the Singapore market, on its own, was "far too small".ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

S'pore businesses urged by ex-NMP to look at overseas markets for growth opportunities

Young entrepreneurs should "get out of Singapore" and look at markets overseas for bigger growth opportunities, according to businessman and former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng.

And China, in particular, is one market that businesses here should aim to get into, he said.

"I think a lot of our businesses start with a very small vision, thinking about Singapore - but you're never going to grow big in Singapore," Mr Cheng told The Straits Times in an interview this week.

"China is the story of our generation. It is all about China, wherever you are. And we have seen how the country went from being the third-largest economy to being the second, and now it is going to be the first very soon," he said.

"It is already a superpower - not only in business, but also in politics. So it is a place that we cannot ignore. In fact, I think it is a place we can learn from."

RISE OF CHINA

China is the story of our generation. It is all about China, wherever you are. And we have seen how the country went from being the third-largest economy to being the second, and now it is going to be the first very soon. It is already a superpower - not only in business, but also in politics. So it is a place that we cannot ignore. In fact, I think it is a place we can learn from.

FORMER NOMINATED MP CALVIN CHENG, on the influence of China's economy in the region.

Mr Cheng, for his part, had entered China in 2011 when he realised that the Singapore market, on its own, was "far too small".

He set up Jue Rui Bao Si, a grooming school for actresses, models and celebrities, which was then merged with ReTech Group in August 2015 to form China-based education technology company Retech Technology.

Retech Technology, which listed in Australia in June, builds technology platforms for Chinese corporates to deliver their corporate training online. Its clients comprise Chinese state-owned enterprises and multinational corporations, including Ping An Insurance and Mercedes-Benz.

Mr Cheng, who is co-chairman of the company, said Retech has seen profits double every year since 2015. Last year, profits hit A$4.9 million (S$5.2 million).

"We could go to Indonesia, which is another very large market, but China is big enough to keep us busy for a long time," he said.

Mr Cheng acknowledged that it had been very tough learning the ropes of doing business in China. This was a key reason why he was part of a new internship scheme launched last month - the Singapore Valley Awards - that will allow undergraduates here to experience working with some of China's top names in technology, including the Alibaba Group.

"China is still a place that a lot of people don't understand, which is why it is so important to be based there, so you can learn about the cultural nuances of working with the Chinese," he said.

Mr Cheng noted that when Chinese tech companies were in the nascent stage of growth, they used to copy concepts from other parts of the world. "But China is starting to innovate a lot of its own business models and technologies now," he said, citing apps such as WeChat, which has evolved into more than just a messaging app.

"The hope is that more Singaporeans can learn from tech start-ups in China and bring (the knowledge) back to the region," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'China 'the place to be' for entrepreneurs'. Print Edition | Subscribe