Startup accelerators such as TechStars, Y Combinator, 500 Startups, etc. have been kickstarting entrepreneurs’ dreams by creating early-stage accelerator programs, providing workspace and mentorship from industry idols, and at times leading rounds of funding. China-Axlr8r (formerly China Accelerator) does just that, for those across the Pacific.
China-Axlr8r is the first mentorship-driven seed-funding program in China. It is founded by Cyril Ebersweiler, a Managing Partner of SOS Ventures. I had the opportunity to chat with Todd Embley, Program Manager of the accelerator, which is located in Dalian and part of the world’s largest organization of such programs, the Global Accelerator Network. Todd tells me their choice of Dalian location over the popular Beijing or Shanghai is three-fold: 1. The concept of bootstrapping: most things are more affordable and suits the early stage entrepreneurial style of living 2. Reduction of white noise: the accelerator wants to take entrepreneurs outside familiar distractions such as friends, family, and media, and have everyone concentrate on building their startup 3. A peaceful environment: there are lots of beautiful mountains and beaches, which provide ample scenic lands for recharging the mind. Todd says it’s amazing how close knit the teams become, they share ideas and naturally gravitate toward one another when they are away from home. “This bonding is integral to the success of the program and the companies as they not only become competitive inside the pressure cooker, but also use and lean-on each other for advice and support to get to the finish line.”
The Mentors that participate in China-Axlr8r are from around the world: Mikaal Abdulla, Founder of 8 Securities in Hong Kong; Gillian Muessig, Founder of SEOMoz in Seattle; George Godula, Founder of Web2Asia in Shanghai; William Bao Bean, Managing Director or Singtel Innov8; Sean O’Sullivan of SOS Ventures in Dublin, etc. full list here. China-Axlr8r hosts “Geeks on a Train” aka. GOAT, a spin-off of the famous Geeks on a Plane by 500 Startups. GOAT is where teams get to travel around China to visit mentors and sought-after companies such as Baidu, Ushi, EFG, Shanda Capital, etc. Part of this tour is a 10 x 10 event held in both Beijing and Shanghai where 10 industry leaders are invited to each give a 10 minute talk about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, build a tech company and share their past experiences. One of the more well-known startups China-Axlr8r graduated in 2011 is OrderWithMe, they won TechCrunch Disrupt in Beijing and went on to raise $3mm in funding directly following the program.
Looking at the Chinese tech startup landscape: Weibo is their version of Twitter, Renren is their Facebook, and Alibaba is the biggest Chinese e-commerce site, which aims to have $473B annual transaction value in the next 5 – 7 years, more than Amazon and ebay combined. However, from speaking with Todd, the concept of “startups” hasn’t always been so popular. Chinese top graduates have been more prone to pursue secure jobs with the Government or established companies than thirst after a riskier entrepreneurial path. This paradigm has gone through some metamorphosis especially since the Chinese Government has been providing encouragement to entrepreneurs by funneling a lot of energy and money into the ecosystem. Todd says as a result, entrepreneurial clubs are popping up in Universities just as they are in the States.