China looks to Wellington to disrupt home market

A collaboration between Wellington-based innovation hub, Creative HQ, and the Chengdu government is creating cross-border networks that could promote the capital as a global provider of innovation services.

The Chinese government has identified innovation as a central pillar of China’s 5-year economic development strategy, and in November 2015, confirmed interest in creating stronger links with New Zealand. In response, Creative HQ invited local Chengdu start-ups to participate in their 2016 Lightning Lab XX Accelerator programme.

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Image: Denny and Steve meeting with the NZ Consul-General – Alistair Crozier and Michael Zhang of the NZ Consulate in Chengdu.

Denny Zou and Steve Xin, founders of Chicken Run, were chosen to represent Chengdu in the intensive three-month programme and have since been on a trajectory to triple their sales by the end of the year. Their goal is to accelerate the Chinese startup into a multimillion-dollar business by end 2017.

Jon Hancock, mentor to the duo, says it was a privilege to witness the company’s transformation. “Prior to Lightning Lab XX, Chicken Run was a manually managed business that was only marginally profitable. Denny and Steve quickly learnt techniques and thinking on how to design systems, growing the existing business while not endangering their core value.”

Alistair Crozier, NZ Consul-General, believes that Creative HQ is uniquely positioned to inspire Chinese businesses. “Innovation means different things to different people, especially across borders and cultures. Creative HQ is capable of showing Chinese start-ups and young businesses just how New Zealand does innovation, and how we do it differently,” explains Crozier. “That jump-start can give a Chinese business the edge back in their home market.”

The founding duo is positive that their choice to step outside of their market and work on their business strategy was the right one, saying that it has helped them find fresh ideas and insights to improve their operations. “Lightning Lab XX has taken our business and vision to the next level,” says Zou, adding that the opportunity to savour a completely different lifestyle in New Zealand was an invaluable experience. “We have been exposed to a network of talented and helpful entrepreneurs, whose passion and courage have impressed, inspired and moved us.”

Having met the team on their return to Chengdu with NZ Consulate Michael Zhang, Crozier believes that the experience has enabled them to define their unique points of difference in the local market. “It was clear that the immersive experience within New Zealand’s environment has energised them and impressed a real sense of Kiwi ingenuity and creativity.”

In the coming months, the Consulate plans to showcase Chicken Run’s experience to entrepreneurial networks in Chengdu. “We know there will be strong interest in response,” Crozier affirms.

“Chengdu is a modern, ambitious and dynamic place with locals committed to a work-life balance. It’s a very good formula for more innovation partnerships between New Zealand and Chengdu.”

Nick Gerritsen, Lightning Lab XX mentor and High Growth Advisor at Creative HQ, believes in building and expanding on Chicken Run’s success.

“It’s a gift for us to start this conversation – the beginning of our exchange. It has been a privilege to work with Denny and Steve and we look forward to future prosperous collaborations with China.”