Expernova's first steps in China
From October 23rd to November 1st, 2017, Expernova had the opportunity to participate in the official delegation of the Montpellier Métropole in China, in the cities of Chengdu (capital of Sichuan) and Quingdao. In the presence of the President of Montpellier Métropole, Philippe Saurel, Expernova participated at the EUPIC Congress dedicated to innovation between Europe and China and also met with Chinese institutions, universities and sites of large technological companies such as Huawei.
Clement PENIN, CTO of Expernova, shares his feedback with us on this rich experience
What was the purpose of this trip to China for Expernova
The purpose of this trip was to help us to better understand the Chinese market and « test » our value proposition and our products in front of interlocutors of the industrial and institutional world. Ideally, we also wanted to identify and meet potential partners interested in our product and market position to initiate long-term collaborative projects oriented towards the Chinese market.
What are the main lessons learned?
The first lesson is that China is clearly a market on which Expernova can have a say. The potential for us is immense and this reflects perfectly when considering the growth of the country itself.
The second is that it is a separate market and you do not come to China from one day to the next. Developing a China-oriented strategy means engaging in long-term relationships with trusted interlocutors.
The good news is that technological and innovative companies like Expernova are on the rise right now and our interest in China is reciprocal.
So would the period be ideal for developing Expernova in China?
In a way, yes. The 19th Congress of the PPC has just ended and the country’s roadmap for the coming years is clear: to open up more to the rest of the world. Xi Jinping emphasized in his speech that the Chinese economy « will not close its doors to the world, » but instead « open up even more. »
The vocation of Expernova is in essence to promote openness and exchange, this profession of faith is full of promise for a company like ours. These sentiments however, must now be accompanied by action from Chinese companies.
In any case, China’s historical « protectionism » for foreigners, and more generally its « moderate » interest in openness given their large domestic market, seem to be a thing of the past. That’s what I felt when I talked to our interlocutors there. For example, a researcher in a renewable energy company told me that he now has quantitative targets for international scientific collaborations.
Following these exchanges, I was able to measure their interest in our technologies and our approaches – and more interestingly, I really perceived their desire to use services like Expernova, allowing them to open up a little more on the world.
Could Expernova be « sino-compatible »?
Yes. Expernova’s vocation speaks to the Chinese, relates to their desire and their need for openness.
Many technology companies I met during my stay made it clear to me: collaborating internationally, finding partners and setting up projects with Europe or North America is now a necessity.
The innovation ecosystems and profiles of technological actors that we provide all respond to this need.
And I make the same observation in the academic sector, which we also address with our offer dedicated to research commercialization activities or, technology transfer. I met several universities in Shengdu and Quingdao, and the question of their international visibility and participation in the « global research effort » is now central. The « discretion » of Chinese universities in the Shanghai ranking, in terms of their demographic weight and the means implemented, is an anomaly of sorts. Here again, the will to open up and engage in substantive action in this direction is clear to see.
Keeping this all mind, and then adding Expernova to the picture, in a certain way we correspond to Chinese culture.
That is to say?
Everything is very codified in China, and rituals are essential in every moment of life. Making contact with people is almost a ceremony in itself. Identifying and connecting people who have common interests is certainly part of our core ethos!
In addition to this, what was the general reaction and feedbacks to your product range?
The reception was very good. Whether I was discussing with industrial or academic interlocutors, Expernova‘s vision of global innovation networks has generated a lot of interest.
Looking for partners in Europe, identifying competitors in the United States on the world stage of Research … Our various use cases found to be highly favorable during the meetings I had. For example, I met with a director of one of the main technological clusters of Quingdao and this person confirmed all this; the identification of partners in the West was now his main challenge and in his eyes, our platform held meaning for him when looking at how to overcome this challenge.
In addition, it was also an opportunity to understand which aspects of the product could be transposed and also identify features which will require adaptations to fully meet the expectations of Chinese users
Which features for example?
I’m thinking particularly of more advanced linking features. Chinese people enjoy meeting their interlocutors and being presented formally. This is something we could move towards in the future.
And then there is the language barrier of course. Identifying someone is one thing, contacting them is another.
The language precisely, is it not the biggest obstacle?
This is an obstacle yes. Many executives within companies, and sometimes even in universities still speak only Mandarin … When it is not a more local dialect related to their province! But at the same time, I also noticed that the new generation is talking more and more English, participating in exchanges abroad …
I think the idea of using English tools for business purposes is no longer a barrier. This does not mean that we must not adapt anyway to Mandarin, at least in product interfaces to facilitate access and use. And as I mentioned previously, to propose complementary services to up to the point of actual contact between people.
But obstacles in approaching the Chinese market, there are many others…
We continue to feel a strong political component in business relations in China. The weight of politics is always present, particularly in relations with institutions such as universities or hospitals. We already know that we will have to deal with this factor if we want to develop our offers in this area.
In this sense, being part of a delegation from the Montpellier metropolis could be an interesting support at the political level to facilitate our relations in the field.
I am also thinking about the protection of our technologies. Working with Chinese partners also means accepting some technology transfer. On this point, vigilance is paramount.
So what’s the next step for Expernova in China?
Establishing yourself in China is a long process: building relationships of trust with local partners, setting up a solid structure on site, adapting offers and products…
It’s a complex market but the potential for our value proposition is immense.
Today, Expernova’s focus remains on Europe and especially the United States. However, the strategy of the company is also in the long term, and the next shot is certainly in China.
This trip has allowed us to grasp this opportunity and to sow the first seeds for the years to come – Among the meetings made during this trip, there are certainly our partners of tomorrow!