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That’s a wrap! Highlights from TechCrunch Hangzhou 2018
Last week, TechCrunch International Innovation Summit brought the heat to Hangzhou. Tech leaders and industry elites gathered there to talk about future trends, and international tech giants made an appearance, delivering a unique experience for all tech fans.
The two-day summit attracted more than 150 exhibitors and more than 8,000 attendees. NetEase, Tencent, Sina, Sohu, and Phoenix, together with CNN, LinkedIn, FT, PRNewswire and over 200 top international and local media were on-site to report on the event. Chairman of the Technical Committee at Alibaba Group and Founder of Alibaba Cloud Dr. Wang Jian, Representative Officer and Managing Director of Greater China World Economic Forum David Aikman, Microsoft China CTO Wei Qing, iQiyi CTO Liu Wenfeng, and over 100 top industry investors joined us on stage. At the VC Meetup, we had 50 VCs and over 100 startups participate.
Here are some highlights from the event.
On Blockchain and Fintech
Zhang Hui, Director of Blockchain Department at Ant Financial, revealed the company’s initiatives in blockchain technology, specifically its focus on developing the consortium chain. Blockchain’s use cases in the financial sector include high-performance blockchain-based platform to support high-frequency transactions and cross-border payments, a development which still remains a challenge. He expressed his hopes that blockchain will create new business models for the company rather than simply provide value-added services.
Hu Xi, Deputy CTO of Ant Financial and Partner of Alibaba Group, shared with us the new layout and global plans of Ant Financial. He also shared what he thought was the core capability of fintech in the finance industry: the ability to solve the communication link for users, the ability to solve problems related to risk and, most importantly, the ability to build trust.
Emi Yoshikawa, Director of Joint Venture Partnerships at Ripple, spoke about how Ripple is using blockchain technology to improve today’s expensive and time-consuming payment process. It is not uncommon for people to view blockchain as a threat to existing banks and financial services, but when asked about whether Ripple is also seen as a threat, Yoshikawa explained that some innovative banks are actually turning to blockchain technology in the face of fierce competition from fintech companies like TransferWise and Paypal. In China, she believes that Ripple’s services can help improve the lives of migrant workers who rely on cross-border transfer services to send money back home.
On AI and Robotics
Wei Qing, CTO of Microsoft China, spoke about the “small” objective of Microsoft: AI for All. With AI being one of the most significant developments of this era, AI for All aims to empower people with AI for the betterment of human society, to help companies become more competitive, and to help people find more opportunities for development.
Liu Wenfeng, CTO of iQiyi, talked about AI and entertainment. AI has been widely applied in mainly two areas, as tools or entertainment. He believes that empowering entertainment with AI will bring more happiness to people, the most enjoyable part coming from people’s participation in its construction and formation.
Master Xianxin from Longquan Monastery discussed Buddhism, technology, innovation, and staying true to oneself. The fundamental value of Buddhism is not based on economics, but rather on one’s heart. A religious group must stand on its own values to be able to provide true values to the society. Master Xianxin believes that innovation won’t get lost as long as there is guidance from Buddhism. So, based on these values, Buddhism and technology complement each other.
CEO of Catalia Health, Cory Kidd, Chairman at RoboUniverse and EIR at TechStars Ping Wang, and Partner of Promus Ventures, Gareth Keane, gave us a taste of what the evolution of the robotic and AI industry looks like from a Silicon Valley viewpoint. According to Kidd, China and the US are moving closer to each other with exchanges between experts, including scientists, investors, big companies, and entrepreneurs. Wang broke down the ecosystem into three parts: hardware, innovation and entrepreneurial. He pointed out that although China dominates the hardware ecosystem, it lags behind in the innovation ecosystem. He also sees differences in way of thinking between entrepreneurship and accelerators in China and the US; while US accelerators are collaborative and mentorship-driven, China is much more competitive. Keane added that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs tend to be more individualistic and that the US tech hub still has some advantages like a large talent pool. They all agreed, however, that China is catching up to the Valley in robotics.
On Venture Capital
One significant takeaway from the VC Session is that institutional investors are increasingly demonstrating unprofessional or random investment behaviors due to emotional investment driven by fierce competition, putting many VCs’ survival at risk. Nevertheless, the panel, which included James Chou, CEO at Microsoft for Startups Shanghai, Garnett Ge, Head of Cross-Border Ventures at Plug and Play, and Vivian Law, Corporate Innovation Director at Chinaccelerator, expressed optimism about the future of VCs in China’s startup ecosystem.
From Startup Alley
More than 100 startups gathered at Startup Alley to showcase their revolutionary products, services, technology, and talents. We found that there were people from all corners of the world and all walks of life, each with their unique story about what inspired them to embark on their entrepreneurial journey.
Deniz Tekerek, co-founder of Portier, a provider of mobile guest services for luxury hotels, shared his story. He often traveled to places where he felt he became very familiar with, but only through a tourist’s eyes. He knew that there had to be another way to appreciate the city, to feel like he was not just another outsider. So, one day when traveling to Bangkok, he decided to gather a bunch of editors who showed him a different side of the city. That’s when he came up with the idea of developing customized mobile phones, which has a lower barrier to entry than creating an app, to be deployed to hotels so that guests can easily communicate with hotel staff and access hotel guest services systems. The company is composed of a global team of locally-based journalists and tastemakers who provide daily coverage on activities and venues, art, culture, and entertainment to serve guests’ interests.
Maggie Varland, Chief Learning Officer at BuzzBuzz, an online kids learning community operated “of the kids, by the kids, and for the kids,” revealed that the idea for connecting Chinese kids with American kids came from their CEO, Shirley. As a mother, Shirley realized that kids like talking to kids and that forcing kids to sit in a classroom and listen to teachers is ineffective. The simple idea that kids learn the most and remember the most when they’re talking to their friends has been the inspiration of their work.
With each unique company, there will be unique challenges, followed by unique solutions. Hoi Yeung, Founder and CEO of pGrab, a startup focused on solving information asymmetry for the global crypto market, shared with us what strategy the company uses to overcome challenges. They use what is called the TenX Challenge, sort of like a brainstorming exercise, based on the idea that if you do it right, you’ll be ten times faster. They have what they call “How-Might-We’s”, as to say “how might we take on this challenge?” Using Post-Its, the challenges are categorized on a wall, with the most emphasis placed on the most popular challenges. These challenges are broken down again and again, asking the question of how might we accomplish this goal each time.
From VC Meetup
As one of the more popular attractions at TechCrunch Hangzhou, VC Meetup enabled hundreds of VCs and entrepreneurs to engage with each other over the two-day period.
After eight years, we continue to stand by our mission to bring China tech insights to the world, to help decompose and make sense of a rather complex and fast-changing space.
We are humbled to have had such great minds join us here at TechCrunch Hangzhou, and we’d like to thank our speakers, volunteers, sponsors and partners who have helped us push through for another successful year.