China bootcamp boost for international entrepreneurs

Three student entrepreneurs at Leeds recently travelled to China to take part in an international bootcamp, thanks to colleague collaboration between two University-based organisations.

Student entrepreneurs Sarah Lloyd, Caitlin Pharoah O’Reilly and Abinav Bhattachan flying the flag for Britain at the Confucius headquarters in Beijing. Picture:

Student entrepreneurs Sarah Lloyd, Caitlin Pharoah O’Reilly and Abinav Bhattachan flying the flag for Britain at the Confucius headquarters in Beijing. Picture:

The Young Entrepreneurs to China event is hosted by the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) – our Chinese partner university – and organised by the Confucius Institute at Victoria University in Australia.

This was the first time this event was open to other international Confucius Institute partners, and only 18 places were available.

But thanks to partnership work between our Business Confucius Institute and Spark, the University’s business start-up service, three Leeds students were selected for the trip.

Frances Noble, Marketing Executive of the Leeds Business Confucius Institute, said: “We needed to work fast to find the strongest applicants to secure the places for Leeds.

“We immediately thought of Spark and the Year in Enterprise programme. As well as assisting with the application process, the Spark team was also able to source funding for flights and visas, which meant we could not only put forward great candidates, we knew the students could definitely take advantage of the opportunity and not have to worry about the costs.”

Abinav Bhattachan (BA Digital Media), Caitlin Pharoah O’Reilly (BA Film, Photography and Media) and Sarah Lloyd (BA Professional Studies) travelled to Beijing and Shenzhen, where they took part in a packed two-week programme of coaching sessions, business visits and cultural excursions. They met with investors and visited a Chinese start-up incubator and other companies, including Huawei Technologies, King Camp, Plug&Play and Lenovo.

Kairen Skelley, Spark’s Head of Business Start-up, said: “This was a unique and incredible opportunity for these three talented student entrepreneurs.

“We knew they would make the most of it and it’s fantastic to see the impact it’s already had on their outlook, confidence and their business plans as they start their Year in Enterprise.”

Dr Giles Blackburne, Executive Director of the Leeds Business Confucius Institute, added: “This collaboration was a great example of being able to use the benefits of the connections we have with China to facilitate and enhance other valuable programmes delivered at Leeds. It was a seamless collaboration and we hope to be able to offer the trip in future years, too.”

Abinav said: “It all happened really fast. We’d only just learned that we’d won a place on the Year in Enterprise programme when we were emailed about the chance to take part in the trip to China!

“There were so few places available, we all felt very privileged to take part and extremely grateful for the package of support the Spark team and Confucius Institute put together for us in such a short space of time.

“Being in an environment with other international student entrepreneurs, all discussing our business ideas together and learning from each other, was brilliant. I’ve made new friends and contacts to draw on from all over the world.

“My business is an online platform that connects people who deliver creative and well-being-related activities and events with potential clients. The trip has totally expanded my horizons, and I feel empowered and enthused, with a clearer grasp of what I want to do with my Year in Enterprise.”

View of Shenzhen in China, one of the cities visited by the student entrepreneurs during their trip. Picture: August 2019View of Shenzhen in China, one of the cities visited by the student entrepreneurs during their trip. Picture: 

Caitlin, who plans to set up her own photography business, said: “It was a real culture shock in so many ways but the cultural briefings from the Confucius Institute before we went were really helpful, as I think we’d been a little apprehensive about what to expect.

“My favourite business visit was to Lenovo headquarters, where we were shown the kind of futuristic world they’re planning for. We were given a tour around a set-up of a home and a workplace where everything was enabled by smart technologies. I was completely blown away.

“In China they do business in an insanely intensive pace and the hours they put in are incredible. It’s humbling to see. It’s also so advanced technologically, it was a real eye-opener. The main thing I’ll take from the trip and apply to my business is the need to stay ahead of the game with technology; I need to be aware of all the new cameras, software and equipment so I don’t become overshadowed by it.

“I’m very thankful to Spark for this incredible experience.”

Sarah was also a little anxious at first – not least because she’d never flown before, let alone travelled as far afield as China – but also because her business is not focused on profit, like her peers on the bootcamp. Sarah is setting up a foundation for knife crime awareness and to provide support for families affected by knife crime in Leeds, with plans to roll it out nationally.

She said: “I did worry it might not be relevant as my business is a social enterprise focused on social responsibility. But it’s actually helped a lot, inspiring me to think of ways to make the foundation sustainable long term so that I can grow it. I’ve also made loads of contacts; people who have connections within their own governments who want to talk to me more about what I’m doing and my social policy research, and this is fantastic.

“It’s been quite surreal really. It’s been an opportunity I never thought I would ever have, both in a cultural and business sense. It was amazing and I loved every minute.” 

Posted in: