Known as a cradle for domestic start-ups, the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen is now raising its appeal to budding entrepreneurs from outside China.
For Australian national Sally Grice, the city in Guangdong Province is a business wonderland that helped her realize the transition from an athlete and stunt performer to an entrepreneur.
Once a professional water skier and wakeboarder performing stunts in live-action shows, Grice’s venture into China’s business world started as a coincidence: In 2009, Grice traveled to Shenzhen with her father to source and develop products. There, a friend asked her to fill in for an injured performer at a stunt water show.
“I was already doing a lot of business here, so it was a really good opportunity to come over to China and be based here,” Grice said. Soon after the gig, Grice took the lead female role in the show “The Flood of Mandrill Mountain,” which involved stunt fighting, bike jumping, high diving, and jet skiing.
After her successful first job in Shenzhen, Grice was ready for the real challenge. In 2012, the fledgling entrepreneur set up her own brand that makes high-end bespoke headwear. Six years later, she expanded her business with a new company focused on supply chain management of trade.
Grice was impressed by the city’s foreign-friendly business environment, which she said features pragmatism, efficiency, and supportive policies.
“In Shenzhen, after consulting the required materials, I can handle all the business such as company registration and bank account opening within one week,” Grice said, comparing it with the long wait in many other countries.
Kelly Diaz from Colombia agrees that the city, with a young and highly mobile population, is friendly to newcomers, including new entrepreneurs with a foreign face.
“When I arrived in China, I spoke neither English nor Chinese. But I was warmly received. The people here are very friendly,” said Diaz, who co-founded a children’s gym in Shenzhen six years ago.
A physical education teacher specializing in childhood education, Diaz was on a brief business trip to China to train teachers in 2011. Amazed by the bountiful opportunities here, she decided to stay and start a business.
“It seems to me that high-rise buildings are rising from the ground every day, and the vigorous development here is like a high-speed train with full power. I told myself that I must seize this opportunity,” she said.
Like many self-help entrepreneurs, Diaz’s career was not smooth sailing from the get-go, but she carried on with generous support from her Chinese friends.
“When I was short of start-up money, friends came to support me with funds. When the lease expired, and it was urgent to relocate, my student’s parents offered to help. Because of COVID, many times I felt that I was going to close the door. There were friends to encourage and support us, asking for nothing,” she said.
For overseas entrepreneurs like Grice and Diaz, another good news is that more favorable policies are awaiting as the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA), where Shenzhen is located, picked up steam.
As one of the most open and dynamic regions in China, the GBA comprises Hong Kong, Macao, and nine cities in Guangdong. China has pledged to develop the area into a world-class city cluster, a global technology and innovation center, and a livable business-friendly area.
To support the GBA development, the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department said it has issued over 30 policies and measures since 2016 to facilitate the applications for visas, permanent residence, and long-term residence by high-caliber and entrepreneurial talents from outside China.
China’s continuous opening up has turned the GBA into a land of opportunities for overseas entrepreneurs, who can bank on the international capital market in Hong Kong and the mature industrial chain plus a broad market in the Pearl River Delta, said Guo Wanda, Executive Vice President of China Development Institute.
The international atmosphere and cultural pluralism in the region, which has been the frontier of China’s reform and opening-up policy for decades, are another bonus for foreigners wishing to start a business, said Gokhan Bukmus, a barista from Türkiye.
Running a Turkish cafe in Shenzhen, the former tour guide wishes to promote the Turkish coffee culture in China, using the inclusive GBA as a springboard.
“China offers a lot of opportunities not only for Chinese but also for foreigners. Because Chinese people are very open to new things and to learn new cultures or new things from other parts of the world, so it gives us an opportunity to introduce our cultures,” he said.