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Member Spotlight: 5 Minutes With Duco Van Breemen, Gm Of Haymarket Hq

ACBC (NSW) Member Spotlight: 5 minutes with…Duco Van Breemen, General Manager of Haymarket HQ

1. Tell us about your business and how you've leveraged your Australia-China connections to build your success in China?

My name is Duco van Breemen and I am the General Manager of Haymarket HQ (HHQ), Australia's first incubator supporting startups & SMEs to connect to China. We offer entrepreneurs access to a co-working space, mentors & investors and a community of like-minded entrepreneurs that have an interest in Asia. HHQ is set up as a not-for-profit, supported by the NSW State Government and located in the heart of Chinatown, Sydney.

As for China; before joining Haymarket HQ, I spent 7 years in China where I helped create one of China's first industrial incubators supporting SMEs to enter China and worked with a variety of companies selling into the local market. The skills and networks I built up during my time there proved to be valuable in my current role.

We are fortunate to have a strong board and mentor network that includes some of Australia's most successful entrepreneurs in China. They have helped us, and our members, open up many doors. This included raising funds, finding distribution and manufacturing partners, and much more.

2. What does a typical day look like for you and what are you currently working on?

We have around 20 companies working from our space at the moment. Every company is unique (we have companies selling everything from Lavender Teddy Bears to Smart Helmets), and a good part of my day consists of supporting them reach their goals. This takes many different forms, which makes my job a lot of fun.

I also meet with our stakeholders on a regular basis to get new projects off the ground. Last year we partnered with Alibaba to hold their inaugural A/NZ startup competition, held workshops on Wechat-hacking your way into China, and much more. We have big plans for 2018, so keep an eye out on our website!

3. What would you say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business in/with China?

Because of the language and cultural differences, many businesses entering the Chinese market face the problem of imperfect information, i.e. the lack of knowledge and experience in the context of China to execute and/or judge the quality of your China market-entry partner.

As a result, many SMEs fall victim to expensive "China experts" that may or may not be able to provide the networks, expertise and support the company needs.

Instead, spend some time in China, build your local knowledge and networks and make an informed market-entry/expansion decision based on your own experiences and learnings from your industry peers. This may involve a steep learning curve, but gaining a deeper understanding of the Chinese market is an investment in your company’s future.

Here's what I would do if I were to consider entering China:

  • Register your trademark before going to China. It doesn't cost much and it will save lots of trouble in the future. Don't let your Chinese partner register it for you. Talk to the Australian IP Councilor. It's free and he can give you advice to start with.
  • Talk to your industry peers in China and Australia. Call your industry trade association & ACBC and ask if they have members in your industry active in China. Ask for referrals—usually a connection in China is only one or two degrees away. Check out the EUSMECentre, a great EU-supported resource for everything China-related. Shoot us an email and ask if we know someone in your industry. All this won't cost you more than a few days and several coffees.
  • Spend some time in the country. Go where the action is, the most up-to-date information will be in China. Speak to marketing agencies, distributors, the Austrade Landing Pad, the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai and build your local network. Get (Vypr) VPN before you head over, it's worth it.
  • Consider doing a local market test before entering China. Think about how you can leverage the Chinese diaspora visiting, living and studying in Australia for initial market testing. It's faster and cheaper than testing in China and can produce representative results.
  • Hire a staff member to support your China operations. Get a PT/FT-er that can support your China operations, understand how to avoid common pitfalls and can translate what's happening in China into advice that you can work with. Being able to speak Chinese is not enough. Find someone with relevant experience and understanding of your industry.

4. How do you go about marketing your business in Australia/China and what has contributed to this success?

We regularly travel to China to meet our counterparts and are in good contact with Australian initiatives in China such as the Austrade Landing Pad. We also hold ~100 events annually in Sydney, have an active Wechat channel and benefit from word-of-mouth.

5. You have been very successful to date, but there have no doubt been challenges - what's been your biggest challenge that you have overcome in your business journey with China?

This comes back to my previous point, working with imperfect information has been the biggest challenge. Staying up-to-date on new market & industry developments in China is difficult and time-consuming. Also, letting go of the mindset of "how things should be done" to how things are done in China is challenging too. It's easy to look at China through a Western lens but it won't get you anywhere.

About Duco van Breemen

Duco is the General Manager of Haymarket HQ (HHQ), Australia’s first not-for-profit startup hub supporting entrepreneurs to grow into China. He is a graduate of Zhejiang Uni. and the Uni. of Nottingham, China. Connect with Duco on LinkedIn.