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Web Summit founder expects Chinese tech firms to lead the way

By Cecily Liu in Lisbon | China Daily UK | Updated: 2018-11-08 00:51
Web Summit's co-founder Paddy Cosgrave speaks during the inauguration of Web Summit, Europe's biggest tech conference, in Lisbon, Portugal, Nov 5, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

China is the world's biggest market for fast-growing tech startups and Chinese technology companies are now increasingly offering important lessons to the world, said Paddy Cosgrave, a co-founder of Web Summit, Europe's biggest tech event.

Cosgrave named China's e-commerce giant Alibaba, Chinese app WeChat, and the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei as key examples of leading tech companies that are having an impact on, and inspiring, the global tech world.

"China is leading the world in terms of new and fast-growing tech companies and that's exciting," he said. "The amount of capital being invested into startups is unprecedented and there's no indication that's going to change anytime soon.

Chinese startups are coming to the world. I think this is China's century and it's exciting."

Cosgrave offered WeChat as an example, saying the company has led the world in chat app technology during the past three years and is showing Facebook the way in terms of innovative functions.

Cosgrave spoke exclusively to China Daily on Wednesday from this year's Web Summit in Lisbon, which started on Monday evening and ends on Thursday.

The annual gathering, which began in Dublin in 2009, has grown into a massive matchmaking event for tech startups and tech investors. This year, it attracted more than 1,800 startups and 1,500 tech investors from approximately 160 countries and territories.

Attendees include Chinese investors and accelerators looking to attract the latest tech startups in order to introduce them to China's massive market. Among those at the event are seed fund ZenFund, the early-stage venture capital company Cherubic Ventures, and accelerators including Beijing Skyocean Combplus Technology and Shanghai's Chinaccelerator.

Three years ago ,ZenFund was the first and only Chinese investor at Web Summit.

Chinese smartphone makers Xiaomi and Oppo both exhibited their phones at Web Summit this year, Huawei exhibited its MateBook tablet, and Shenzhen-based DJI showcased its drones.

Cosgrave said he expects China to produce many globally leading tech startups in the coming years, judging from the nation's heavy investment in technology and research, which he sees as an "important forward indicator" for market trends.

"The US is beginning to de-invest in fundamental research, and China is increasing research. That will bear tremendous fruit for the coming decades. China is leading the world in terms of innovation," he said.

According to the latest comparative data collected by the science magazine Nature, China now has more researchers than the United States, outspends the European Union in terms of research and development, and "is on track to beat all other nations in its yearly production of scientific papers".

China's digital economy was worth 27.2 trillion yuan ($4.1 trillion) in 2017 and accounted for 32.9 percent of China's gross domestic product, according to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology. Last year, 171 million people worked in sectors related to China's digital economy, which accounted for 22 percent of the nation's workforce.

Meanwhile, the World Intellectual Property Organization listed China as the only middle-income country among the world's top 25 most innovative economies in 2017.

Cosgrave, who was born in Ireland in 1983 and who grew up on a farm, visited China for the first time in 2006, during a United Nations-organized trip while studying at Trinity College Dublin. During the visit,he met with senior managers from Chinese companies including Huawei, China Mobile, and China Telecom, and still talks about the encounters with enthusiasm.

"That was an amazing experience and really opened my eyes to the fact that, even back then, China was building some of the most amazing companies," he said.

He now visits China a few times a year and said he is constantly surprised by its transformations powered by new technology, with one example being the way the city of Shenzhen will electrify its entire bus fleet by the end of this year, and transfer all its taxis to electric power by 2020.

"To think that every bus in Shenzhen is electric – that's an example to the world. Hopefully, the world is watching, listening, and learning," he said.

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