Wahed Ahmadzai, an entrepreneur from Afghanistan and founder of consulting firm N HUB, hosts an activity known as Opportunity Lab in Beijing on March 31 (COURTESY PHOTO)
March 16 marked an important milestone for Beijing-based entrepreneur Wahed Ahmadzai. That day he registered his consultancy company in the Jinzhan International Cooperation Service Zone, a component of the international business service section of the China (Beijing) Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ).
The Beijing FTZ was launched in September 2020 and covers an area of 119.68 square km. Its international business service section comprises the Central Business District (CBD) and the Jinzhan Zone in Chaoyang District, as well as designated areas in Tongzhou and Shunyi districts. The other two parts of the FTZ focus on science and technology innovation and high-end industries, respectively.
Ahmadzai's company, named N HUB, is the first foreign-owned firm in the Jinzhan Zone. It is building a matchmaking marketplace connecting service providers in Belt and Road Initiative participating countries.
"N means infinite," Ahmadzai, an Afghan student who is pursuing his master of business administration degree at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, told Beijing Review. "Powered by hubs in local communities, N HUB provides a transparent, reliable and supportive environment for companies to engage in business and trade."
Ahmadzai has founded and led many platforms for peer-to-peer communication, including the Alumni Talent Alliance (ATA), a non-profit organization focusing on connecting communities and providing entrepreneurship and career support for foreigners in Beijing. Ahmadzai describes himself as a community builder and, for him, N HUB and the ATA are new communities for the Beijing FTZ.
On March 31, N HUB and the ATA hosted their first event in Beijing, known as Opportunity Lab, bringing together government officials, diplomats, representatives of commerce chambers and entrepreneurs from more than 30 countries. During the event, officials from the Chaoyang District Government and foreign participants discussed the development of the Beijing FTZ and the opportunities it brings about.
"The community is built around the Chaoyang and Beijing eco-system, including service centers, funds, associations and projects such as entrepreneurship competition and media partners. ATA was established to bridge the gap between talents and the local government, helping talents explore entrepreneurship opportunities," Ahmadzai said.
Both N HUB and the ATA are platforms for entrepreneurs to learn about opportunities available to them and policies related to their businesses, and for governments to gather valuable feedback to improve the business environment for young entrepreneurs, as well as help foreigners explore career opportunities in China.
Unlike other FTZs in China, which mostly center on trade in goods, the Beijing FTZ prioritizes the technological innovation, service and digital economy sectors, and is dedicated to the development of talented human resources, Liu Jing, Director of Beijing Chaoyang High-Level Talents Service Center, told Beijing Review.
"At this moment, nearly 55 percent of foreign residents in Beijing live in Chaoyang," Liu said. "So the district can play a great role in the development of international business services and focus on the incubation of international talents."
Chaoyang has adopted a number of methods to attract international professionals, such as establishing the annual Overseas Talent Entrepreneurship Conference (OTEC). During the Global Innovation Week, a section of the program, last September, young international participants pitched their ideas as part of an entrepreneurship competition. "Winners received 100,000 yuan ($15,248) in start-up funding," Liu said. "We might increase the funding amount in the future."
Ahmadzai was one of the winners. "Before I attended the competition, the organizer told me that I only needed one idea in order to compete. After I won, they offered me a lot of assistance and suggestions," Ahmadzai said, adding that this is why he was able to turn his idea into a fully operating company in the Jinzhan Zone in only five months.
According to Ahmadzai, he also encountered some difficulties in the process of registering his new company. For example, the procedures of opening a bank account were unexpectedly complicated and time-consuming. "I can understand it as it might also be a new thing for the bank to help a foreign entrepreneur here," he said. "But I believe it will be dealt with soon."
Chaoyang also cooperates with various chambers of commerce and has established its own associations for bringing in talented people. Every year, it invests more than 7 million yuan ($1.07 million) in talent development programs, according to Liu.
Additionally, the district has established several one-stop service centers for international professionals since November 2020. One of them is located in the Beijing Fortune Center in CBD. It integrates different kinds of services, covering issues related to work and residence permits, housing, marriage registration and children's education.
These measures are not only attracting more foreigners to establish their startups in Chaoyang, but also helping expand its international talent pool. "You can recruit people with high levels of competence here," Ahmadzai said.
Junaid Akbar, a Pakistani student who is studying for his master's degree in Beijing, is planning to start his own company in China. He attended the event hosted by N HUB and the ATA to learn more information about the Beijing FTZ.
"I would definitely appreciate getting more information regarding the FTZ and how it may benefit the foreigners who wish to start their business in Beijing," Akbar told Beijing Review. "I believe this initiative taken by the government will encourage foreign nationals to deliver their plans."
Gu Nik, a Russian student at Tsinghua University, told Beijing Review, "Beijing is a great place to start a business, and the FTZ may provide even more opportunities to new entrepreneurs.
In addition to young entrepreneurs, diplomats from foreign embassies also sought to identify opportunities in the Beijing FTZ. "I come here to gain more information about the Beijing FTZ," Sofiene Dridi, a diplomat from the Tunisian Embassy in Beijing, told Beijing Review.
Dridi said Tunisia and China have many joint projects at the national level and are exploring cooperation in new fields such as e-commerce. Meanwhile Tunisian businesses are also looking for partnerships with local Chinese governments. "Establishing FTZs is an important Chinese experience that other countries can learn from," he added.
FTZs are new test fields of reform and opening up, and important platforms to attract foreign investment. Since the first pilot FTZ was launched in Shanghai in 2013, 260 innovative policies have been formulated and replicated nationwide with remarkable results.
According to a report by Xinhua News Agency, in the first seven months of 2020, more than 3,300 new foreign-funded enterprises were established in FTZs. Paid-in foreign investment in these zones exceeded 90 billion yuan ($13.72 billion) and their foreign trade volume reached more than 2.7 trillion yuan ($411 billion), accounting for 16.8 percent and 13.5 percent of the country's total, respectively.
In September 2020, China approved three new pilot FTZs in Beijing and Hunan and Anhui provinces, increasing the total number of such zones in China to 21. Like previous ones, each of the newest FTZs has its own development priorities. For example, the Beijing FTZ will focus on supporting the construction of an innovation center with global influence; the Hunan FTZ will build a world-class advanced manufacturing cluster and an international investment and trade corridor linking different areas; and the Anhui FTZ will promote the in-depth integration of scientific and technological innovation and the development of the real economy.
(Print Edition Title: Opportunity Lab)
Copyedited by G.P. Wilson
Comments to email@example.com