Dr. Bin Zhu’s job at Business Finland is to facilitate investment deals between Finnish companies and projects and Chinese investors. What are investors looking for and what a western company should take into consideration when entering Chinese markets?
Entrepreneurs interested in doing business in China could learn a thing or two from dr. Bin Zhu. They might have misconceptions about IPR regulations, for example, or not wait until the Chinese market is ready for them. Do your IPR research, he says, and have patience until the market realises the value of your brand and innovation.
Bin Zhu, also known as Zhubin in East Asian way, is an investment matchmaker. Since 2014 his job has been to get Foreign Direct Investment from China into Finnish projects and companies. The two countries have always had friendly relations, but that didn’t translate into many investment deals from China to Finland – until recently.
“From 1950 to 2014 we had about 125 million dollars cumulative Chinese investment into Finland,” Zhubin says. “From 2014 to now that number is close to 10 billion, so we are witnessing rapid development.”
Zhubin is the director responsible for Greater China at Invest in Finland. Invest in Finland is part of Business Finland, the new state-owned agency which facilitates innovation, trade, investment and tourism.
Cancel that flight; let’s go to Finland instead
In recent years there have been a number of high-profile deals, such as Tencent buying a majority stake in the gaming company Supercell, National Semiconductor Industry Group acquiring Okmetic, Thundersoft purchasing automotive user interface developer Rightware, and CATL, one of the world’s leading battery manufacturers, investing a significant amount in Valmet Automobile.
“We have been involved in about 30 out of the 50 most recent large cases,” he continues. “Each case is different. In some of those deals we have been intensely involved and in some we only provided a little help.”
Huawei’s R&D hub in Tampere is a good example. In 2016 Microsoft shut down their mobile device unit, leaving empty labs and thousands of jobless world-class specialists.
“I called Huawei and told them about the lab and all these camera and acoustics specialists, and my contact Charles Ai was interested,” Zhubin says. “At that moment Huawei was looking for a place to set up a new audio lab and in fact they already had plane tickets to look at another location. They changed their tickets and came to Finland. In less than a month they were interviewing potential candidates with support from IIF and Tredea. Within another three months the new R&D centre in Tampere was launched.”
Matching Finnish ideas and Chinese resources
On the surface it sounds like a one-way street, with Zhubin trying to convince Chinese companies to invest in Finland. Actually, the situation goes both ways.
“A typical case might be a Finnish SME who develops a unique innovation and thinks China could be their largest potential market, but doesn’t have the resources and know-how for market entry,” Zhubin explains. “Meanwhile we have a Chinese company who is looking for innovations to reinforce their R&D for their solutions and products. In many cases the Chinese investors aren’t too concerned about price, but are instead looking for a ‘bigger multiplier’. They want a company and innovation they can believe in, which can be adapted for the Chinese market. We match the best pairs and put the two together.”
Zhubin’s job is not just to make introductions. He works with other Business Finland colleagues, and also does a lot of work with financial and legal experts as well as government officials to make sure all steps are in order. There are regulatory restrictions on investments, for example, and his knowledge of the system helps to make sure things go smoothly.
FinChi ready to help
Many Finnish companies are interested in the Chinese market, and Zhubin can give a bit of advice on how to get started.
“If your company is in the early stage of Chinese expansion, the FinChi team in Shanghai could be a good option,” he says. “Since 2005 FinChi has helped about 130 Finnish companies in the incubation stage set up in China. FinChi provides good services, and as it’s close to the Business Finland team, a Finnish company can easily access the free services from Business Finland specialists. They have a successful track record and everyone appreciates their good work.”
China is a large country and Finns might be overwhelmed on where to focus.
“Generally speaking, the east coast is easier for most companies. Shanghai is open, friendly and has an international culture, although it is also more expensive,” Zhubin says. “ICT companies might look at Hangzhou or Shenzhen. If your clients are big state-owned companies Beijing could be a good option for you.”
Finland is a small, quiet country, and Chinese may have difficulty distinguishing it from other Nordic neighbours. Zhubin says they mainly know of Finland because of Nokia and F1 drivers like Kimi Räikkönen, but have a very positive perception of the Nordic region in general.
Erase preconceptions about China
“Sometimes people think of China as a place only for low-cost manufacturing, unaware how technologically advanced the country is,” Zhubin continues. “For example, their e-commerce sector is among the best in the world.”
Another common mistake is to think China is a homogenous land with one set of rules of behaviour or business practices. He points out China might be one economic market but it has an extremely diverse and rich culture. Even the differences in dialect in China are as large as you find in language differences in Europe.
“It is hard to generalise, but for example Finns tend to have one idea and stick to it. Chinese tend to be a bit more flexible. They look for new opportunities,” Zhubin says. “But in reality, they do business as differently throughout China as they do throughout America or Canada. To sum up, I would suggest you don’t have any pre-set ideas about China. Just go there and experience it for yourself, and if you want some help doing business there you know who to contact!”
Photos: Junnu Lusa
Zhu Bin (Binzhu)
Title: Director, Invest in Finland, Greater China at Business Finland
Lives in: Shanghai City, China
Education: Ph.D., Molecular evolution, Ecological and Evolutionary Biology
Past jobs: Managing Director for Innovation Centre Denmark, Innovation and Investment Counsellor for British Colombia, Assistant Professor at Fudan University
Business Finland is the Finnish innovation funding, trade, investment, and travel promotion organization. Invest in Finland is the official investment promotion agency for Finland and a part of Business Finland. Business Finland, Tesi, Finnvera, Finnfund and Finnpartnership, among others, are parts of the Team Finland network.
Employees: 600 experts in 40 offices globally and in 20 regional offices around Finland.
Web pages: www.businessfinland.fi/en
Finland-China Innovation Center, FinChi, facilitates and speeds up the start-up of Finnish businesses in China. A part of the Team Finland network and a subsidiary of Business Finland and Invest in Finland.
Web pages: www.finchi.cn