We had prepared for the trip to Hangzhou, China, for months. We knew everything about invitation letters, consulates and visas, ticket agencies and checklists by the time we took the bus to Gothenburg’s airport on October 17. From Gothenburg to Stockholm, from Stockholm to Beijing, from Beijing to Hangzhou. All in all in about 16 hours. To say the least: we were a tad jetlagged by the time we arrived on Sunday.
China’s been exciting though! The day we arrived we went strolling down the street from the hotel we we’re staying at just to get a genuine experience of the city pulse, people and culture. And the smell! Every 10 meters or so there was a different smell of local food. Some nice ones (and some not-so-very nice ones), and we continued our Experience of Smells at a local restaurant that Sunday evening as we had dinner together with WEF organizers and our host – Dr Xiabo Wu, Dean of School of Management at Zheijang University. A lot of beautiful food (not very veggie though). Feeling jetlagged, we went to bed early.
On Monday morning we started off with a very exciting (and dangerous) cab ride to the Yellow Dragon Hotel, where the entire WEF event were to be held. The schedule for the official WEF event weren’t due until the following day, but this was the day to meet all fellow JWEF representatives from all over the world and learn from each other. Some JWEF chapters that really had nailed it were Chile and Iran; Chile had attracted really exciting partners and impressive pitch contest prizes and Iran had embraced the political situation in the country as a strength for its program. Chile even managed to be one of the few chapters that produced such a good poster about their event that they were selected to pitch in front of a jury the last day. Sweden’s contribution during the poster session left some questionable results regarding creativity, though …
The day ended with us meeting up with Anna-Lena and Eva-Lena from Business Region Gothenburg at the cocktail dinner. Again, feeling jetlagged we went to the lobby to wait for the 8.30 P.M. bus to take us back to our hotel. Although, we were to find out that our dear bus driver were nowhere to be seen until 40 minutes later. Should’ve taken that feared cab ride instead.
So, Wednesday! The official WEF opening day and a packed schedule with talks and workshops residing around the world-wide theme “New Continents, New Opportunities” (that every JWEF chapter also have embraced this year). The bus that were scheduled from 8.00 A.M. had the day before been re-scheduled to 8.30 – but the bus driver didn’t want to leave until 9.00. Introducing: infamous cab driver with all the usual characteristics like non-functioning seat-belts, honking the horn for no obvious reason and giving us that nice city tour that you sometimes get as a taxi riding tourist. Marguerite of JWEF France, who’d lived in Shanghai for the past two months, told us to be careful when walking in the street since there seemed to be a hierarchy among vehicles; buses and trucks are big so get a lot of respect, cars are smaller so they get a little less (yet enough) respect, motorcycles and vespas not so much for being tiny in comparison, and people in the streets are pretty much invisible by anyone in a vehicle and are therefore to be considered collateral damage. Which means there’s a lot of accidents involving vehicles and people. Marguerite’s advice about us being careful seemed legit.
When finally arriving at the Yellow Dragon Hotel we went to the big hall where the introduction were held. Then followed an introduction by Dr Xiabo Wu (the Dean from Zheijang University and our previous dinner host) and Professor Tugrul Atamer, Executive Chairman of the WEF forum, greeting everyone welcome. The hall was packed with participants, translators, photographers, video teams and hotel staff! Word had been told that some 600+ people were attending the forum. After the welcome greeting we sat down to listen to talks by Wang Qicheng (founder of Hakin Unique) about internet startups in China, Mirela Sula (co-founder of Migrant Woman magazine) about immigrants as a great entrepreneurial resource and Sibongile Sambo (founder of SRS Aviation) about her all-women-led South African airline company. Also, we went to an all-Chinese sub-forum session about O2O in China (that is, “Online 2 Offline”) with speakers from different universities and Internet startups. Internet’s playing a huge part in China, not just due to the nation’s regulations but via all the up-and-coming dotcom startups (or maybe “dotcn” is better phrased).
This brings us to the great gala dinner! Awards were to be handed out, dinner to be eaten and drinks to be shared. And the show! We got the chance to watch and listen to traditional folk music, dance and drumming. Quite a sight, least to say. One awardee who really caught our attention were Tim Draper, founder of Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Draper University, who’s previously invested in companies like Tesla, SpaceX, Twitter, Tumblr, Skype, Yammer, and the list just goes on and on. What really stood out was his speech when he’d received the award; Tim’s a really passionate entrepreneur which you really can tell, and he later got the question of his biggest investment failures. Tim’s answer: when his partners had told him to not invest in Google – he had already invested in six search engines, so why invest in a seventh? Add some drinks and networking with our JWEF friends and you have a decent recipe for a gala dinner.
Last but least – Wednesday. The morning started with a Q&A with the awardees from the night before. We had our hopes up for an interesting sessions since we really would’ve heard more from Mr. Draper from the night before. Now the audience had a chance to ask tough questions to the awardees. The questions ranged from government intervention, average time from application to a started company (New Zeeland’s holding the record of an average 30 minutes), Bitcoin money transfer, Estonia as a great leader in digital policy making, and a lot more. Afterwards there was a “Lion’s Den” session with five VC personalities and four pitches, which was nice since we really had missed more practical entrepreneurship examples at the WEF event – more of that, please! We had looked forward to the poster pitch contest that we’d competing about on Monday, sorry to see that there were quite some technical issues during the session though.
We finished Wednesday night with dinner at the beautiful City God Pavilion. What a jaw dropping view of the city! Seeing that sight really made us feel that we’d loved to stay for a couple of months in China. Absolutely beautiful.
In summary we’d say that the event was interesting. Yet we’d hoped for more of a Techcrunch or SXSW kind of event with startups, pitches, VCs, and “real” entrepreneurship; it was more “academic” entrepreneurship and lots of talks from universities and policy making topics. We had loved to see for example Google have a session about why they pulled out of China, which would’ve fit the theme of “New Continents, New Opportunities” perfectly. Or why not, if academia is the thing, try to have Steve Blank talk about Business Model Canvas and why the classic business plan is obsolete? Hey, why not have the CEO and founder Derek Andersen talk about Startup Grind! We’d also preferred if the JWEF sessions had got more attention; a lot of chapters had done a fantastic job with their events that should’ve received much more credit! We’d say that the different JWEF chapters is incredibly important for WEF, if the chapters would be seen as grass root instead – there’s nothing “junior” about that.
Besides, spending time with our fellow JWEF friends was the most important to us. Now we have friends from all over the world, and isn’t that what it’s all about – making friends instead of contacts? That’s how we really felt new continents and new opportunities forming.
Further reading: Interview with JWEF Gothenburg’s representative in Hangzhou, China