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Being an entrepreneur in China

Updated: Apr 11, 2023 By Elsa Maria Josefin Hagberg Medin Print
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[Sweden] Elsa Maria Josefin Hagberg Medin, Donghua University

My first encounter with China was in 2009 when I just turned 16 years old and was curious about China. I asked my cousin, who lived in Wuhan, Hubei Province to show me around the country during our vacations. I couldn’t get enough of China after that short trip. After graduating from senior high school, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to study in China for a year. As the year was coming to an end, I had great attachment for China. On the recommendation of my Swedish friends, I chose to continue my undergraduate studies at the Center for International Programs (CIP), Donghua University.

Elsa Maria Josefin Hagberg Medin [Photo provided to]

My university life has been very colorful and diversified. The CIP courses designed for international students have broadened my understanding of Chinese society, its people and business environment. I learned a lot from my teachers and classmates came from different countries, which I didn’t learn from textbooks. I was also active in the student council and participated and organized numerous interesting activities.

I started my entrepreneurial journey during my undergraduate studies by chance. I have a special love for pets, especially dogs. In the spring of 2015, I had the opportunity to adopt a dog but had to give it up later because I couldn’t find anyone to help me take care of it while I was away on vacation. Coincidentally, I took the course “Entrepreneurship and Innovation” that fall, which made me start thinking about whether I could create a platform to help pet owners solve problems they met. With the guidance of my instructor, I worked step by step to transform my idea into a business plan through research and study. When the plan was complete, I realized what I really wanted to do. After much deliberation, I made a decision that I would turn this plan into a reality, and I was going to apply for graduation a year early in order to start my own business.

Elsa and her friends in Shanghai. [Photo provided to]

Starting a business for the first time is difficult, and it is even more difficult for foreigners to start a business in China because they do not understand the requirements and processes involved. The course I took –China Business Law – tells me what types of businesses expats can start in China and the basic laws and regulations. It saved me a lot of detours in registering my company.

The tedious work of registering the company, exploring the market, setting up online platform and running a trial run, together with the heavy academic workload made me feel very stressed. Luckily, I found a partner in time, so I was able to balance my studies with my business.

No pains, no gains. In the fall of 2016, I received my bachelor’s degree ahead of schedule with honors. In March 2017, the company, of which I served as legal person and CEO, was registered.

Being able to turn my interest and hobby into a career has given me the motivation and the courage to face all kinds of difficulties and pressures. The quality of services provided by Spare Leash has quickly earned the company a reputation. In less than a year, the platform has grown from 15 pet sitters to 170 pet sitters. It has been named Time Out’s “Lifestyle Service of the Year” for three years in a row since 2016. By the end of 2017, the company started to expand its business to other cities such as Beijing. In 2018, on behalf of Spare Leash, I participated in a programmed launched by Chinaccelerator.

After four months of competition, our company was selected from over 400 candidates to become one of the nine projects to participate in the final roadshow and eventually received nearly 1 million yuan of angel fund investment. By 2019, Spare Leash already had more than 1,000 registered pet sitters.

Elsa's graduaton ceremony [Photo provided to]

Moreover, the CIP program of Donghua University places great emphasis on social responsibility among its students. During my studies, I was keen on participating and organizing charity activities. After starting my own business, Spare Leash gives back to the community by organizing various charity events, such as pet adoption days. It is equally rewarding to see pet lovers and stray pets find companions that they can comfort and rely on each other.

While the future of Spare Leach seems promising, I decided in the spring of 2019 that I wanted to experience a different professional life. I resigned as CEO of Spare Leash, retaining only my corporate and shareholder status.

Latter, I joined USA Global International Group Co. Ltd. to work as the global marketing director for its World Solar Congress and China International Semiconductor Executive Summit. My task is to help domestic and international companies in these two industries establish relationship and share their experiences. This job has given me the opportunity to learn many new things from senior executives in these industries.

Living and studying in Shanghai over the years has really opened my eyes, unlocked my potential, and made me who I am today. My love for Chinese people and culture has grown. And I am fond of the life in Shanghai because of its high internationalization. I hope that with my efforts, more people in abroad will get to know the real China.

The story is from "My Beautiful Encounter with China" Essay Competition organized by the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchanges (CSCSE).

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