SHENZHEN — Known as a cradle for domestic startups, the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen is now starting to 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 by chance: 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 stunt performer at a 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 says. Soon after the gig, Grice took the lead female role in the show The Flood of Mandrill Mountain, which involved stunt fights, bike-jumping, high-diving and water scooters.
After a successful stint at that first job in Shenzhen, Grice was ready for a real challenge. In 2012, the fledgling entrepreneur established her own brand of high-end, bespoke millinery. Six years later, she expanded her business portfolio with a new company focused on supply chain management.
Grice was impressed by the city's foreigner-friendly business environment, which she says features pragmatism, efficiency and supportive policies.
"In Shenzhen, after consulting the required materials, I could handle all the business, such as company registration and opening bank accounts, in one week," Grice says, 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 from abroad.
"When I arrived in China, I spoke neither English nor Chinese. But I was warmly received. The people here are very friendly," says 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 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 sprouting from the ground every day, and the vigorous development here is like a high-speed train at full power. I told myself that I must seize this opportunity," she says.
Like many self-sufficient entrepreneurs, Diaz's career was not all smooth sailing, but she carried on with generous support from her Chinese friends.
"When I was short of startup money, friends supported me with funds. When the lease expired, and I had to relocate urgently, my students' parents offered to help. Because of COVID-19, many times I felt that I was going to have to close the doors. There were friends to encourage and support me, asking for nothing in return," she says.
For overseas entrepreneurs like Grice and Diaz, there is more good news. More favorable policies are in the works as the construction of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, where Shenzhen is located, picks 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 bureau says it has issued over 30 policies and measures since 2016 to facilitate the applications for visas, permanent residence, and long-term residence of high-caliber and entrepreneurial talent 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, says 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, says Gokhan Bukmus, a barista from Turkiye.
Running a Turkish cafe in Shenzhen, the former tour guide wishes to promote Turkish coffee culture in China, using the 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 learning about new cultures or new things from other parts of the world, it gives us an opportunity," he says.