China is not anymore what people expect it to be

If you still have the perception of China as an inexhaustible pool of cheap, reliable labor, able to compete on ‘quantity’ rather than ‘quality’, you might have to reconsider your opinion. For the last three decades, China has evidently put scientific and technological innovation at the core of its productivity growth. This suggests that if in the 1990s the low labor costs, favorable infrastructures and relaxed regulations made the country the ideal outsourcing partner for Western companies, the unprecedented government investment in R&D, innovativeness and technological intensity made China one of the most crucial economic allies of the 21st century.


However, although these changes occur in front of everyone’s eyes, the drivers and trajectories of China’s business landscape often remain under-investigated by leading innovators, who tend to overlook the consequences and potential of such disruptive change.


For this reason, Spark Labs, in collaboration with the ETHZ Master program in Management, Technology, and Economics, organized a 6-day seminar in Shanghai to explore the new innovation landscape and gain a unique insight into its business world.



The program featured a carefully selected mix of seminars, workshops, company visits and networking events. We had the chance to visit international companies which have established a strong, strategic presence in China, such as GF Automotive, a leader and tech-pioneer in the global automotive industry. We visited XNode and Tech-Temple, two of the innovation co-working spaces built as a part of the government’s strategy to develop infrastructures for mass creativity. Just a few kilometers out of Shanghai, our participants could meet one of the directors of the Suzhou Industrial Park, ranked as the second-best industrial park in the country. Built in 1994 as a bilateral project with Singapore, the massive 288 km2 area currently hosts high-tech companies and biotech start-ups, providing an entire eco-system where innovation and entrepreneurship are constantly promoted and supported with government interventions. We explored local initiatives, such as the Swiss Center Shanghai, that - for the past ten years - supports Swiss SMEs willing to establish a presence in China. We learned about the high-grade legal regulations concerning outbound investments and IP protection as well as recent trends in the job market and international trade.


Finally, hosted by Swissnex Shanghai who supported us throughout the program, we facilitated a hands-on workshop where participants could share their acquired knowledge and identify key takeaways to bring back to their companies. Thanks to this inspiring, engaging and instructive program, participants could enhance their intercultural competencies and develop the critical skills necessary to assess the potential for doing business in China.