Expat entrepreneurs connecting Shanghai with the world

Expat entrepreneurs build a bridge between Shanghai and the world

On April 19th, Meet Expat Entrepreneurs @Shanghai once again held an online roundtable forum. The guests invited to this salon are not only overseas experienced entrepreneurs who come to Shanghai to start businesses, but they are also impresarios who use their resources to build a cooperation bridge between other entrepreneurs and China, especially in Shanghai. While having experienced entrepreneurship in China themselves, they help others find and establish their businesses and dreams in Shanghai.


The three guests we had on our MEE free webinar are Toshi Tanaka from Japan, Alejo  Fernandez Parral from Argentina, and David Costa from Spain. They have worked in well-known enterprises in Shanghai for many years, started their businesses, and became "bridge builders" servicing some of the most influential Chinese and foreign individuals and organizations in this land. 

In addition, in this webinar, as a special guest, Ms. Zhang Lin from Shanghai Foreign Investment Promotion Center shared their policy interpretation and case studies to more than 100 listeners present in the forum.

The forum was moderated by Dr. Pearl Wang, who is also the director of the Meet Expat Entrepreneurs @Shanghai project.

But, what is Meet Expat Entrepreneurs @Shanghai?

As we like to call it, MEE is a special project that brings together expat entrepreneurs in Shanghai from all over the world. They come from different countries, have different backgrounds, and come together to Shanghai with all sorts of ideas and dreams. Like local entrepreneurs, they join the city and work hard for their future.


Toshi Tanaka

Founder of China-Japan innovation accelerator "Takumi Innovators"

Toshi Tanaka from Japan has worked in Deloitte for 12 years, including four years as an overseas dispatcher in Shanghai. As a result, he has a broad understanding of the China Market. Moreover, he closely followed China's continuous development to adapt and optimize his self-value during these years, starting his own business in Shanghai in 2015.

As the founder of Takumi Innovators, Toshi promoted the acceleration of innovation and entrepreneurship of Chinese and Japanese enterprises through his own company. The mission of Takumi Innovators is to "redefine the Sino-Japan cooperation model and create new business value between China and Japan." Toshi believes that China's strength lies in digitization and a larger market. On the other hand, Japan is strong in traditional fields such as new materials and semiconductors. He, therefore, bets on strengthening cooperation between the two countries to achieve a "1+1" effect that is much greater than 2 or even 4.

Takumi Innovators has a strong presence in the Japanese communities, involving many large enterprises and organizations in various industries such as business, consulting, communication and information, retail, universities, and media. By helping them carry out an open innovation and transformation, they can achieve that level of cooperation between China and Japan. In addition, Takumi Innovators also assisted a significant number of start-ups from Japan to build a business bridge for their collaboration with China, especially Shanghai.


Alejo Fernandez Parral

Founder of 

Parral  Consulting

Alejo is from Argentina and has worked as a lawyer in his own country for over five years. In addition, he is also an associate professor at the University of Montpellier in France. In 2018, Alejo came to Shanghai. As a lawyer, he was keenly aware that many overseas enterprises and entrepreneurs would always be troubled by legal problems when expanding business in China. 

Since he possessed rich legal and consulting experience, he established Parral Consulting to help Latin American and Chinese companies deal with international trade by providing customized solutions. Furthermore, as president of the Argentinian Chamber of Commerce in China, Parral Consulting has organized business dinners with Argentinian enterprises to discuss the challenges that COVID-19 would bring to organizations in China. 

In addition, he has an active presence at China International Import Expo, Shanghai International Food Exhibition, and other events to promote business exchanges between the two countries and establish deeper cooperation.


David Costa

Co-founder and CEO of VivirChina(VivirCN) and Xiyuan

As an International multilingual professional, he grew up in Spain, spent seven years in England, and the last seventeen years in China, where he currently resides in Shanghai.


He lived in Inner Mongolia as a Chinese translator, in Ningbo as the GM for a Spanish trading company, and for the last 11 years in Shanghai, where he carried out projects such as opening a winery branch, PR Manager, BD executive roles, and a side career in Chinese TV.

Seven years ago, he founded VivirChina, and its Chinese branch Xiyuan (), a bridge to enter the Chinese market and a portal for cross-border cooperation between foreign and Chinese brands. VivirChina has serviced some of China's most influential multinational and local companies across various industries, such as DisneyFan Magazine, Peppa Pig, Kafftec, Tecnoconverting, and Viking Cruises.


Lynn Zhang


Ms. Zhang works at Shanghai Foreign Investment Promotion Center (), the only official two-way investment promotion organization in Shanghai. Invest Shanghai is subordinate to the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Commerce, currently with five offices in Los Angeles, Osaka, London, Frankfurt, and Gothenburg.


Invest Shanghai aims to promote the two-way development of FDI (foreign direct investment) and ODI (outward direct investment). As the US and Oceania Department manager, Zhang Lin has been working closely with government agencies and the financial industry to help many large and small foreign-funded enterprises smoothly enter the Chinese market and communicate with local angel and venture investors. At the same time, she helps Shanghai enterprises actively explore overseas markets, promoting a favorable two-way development of Shanghai's foreign-funded financial ecosystem. 





Questions to Toshi

Q: How do you define the opportunities and challenges facing your company in Shanghai?

A: At present, "enterprise innovation" between China and Japan is still very immature. We have a strong background in this field, so we also see a lot of opportunities. The struggle of Japanese companies and start-ups is that they do not understand the situation of innovative Chinese business initiatives. Although they are connected with some traditional enterprises, they lack an interactive connection with these innovative companies, and so does China with Japan. Therefore, we assist Chinese and Japanese enterprises in building a bridge and trust.

Almost no one is doing what we do here in terms of competition because "open innovation" is still a new concept. There are cultural differences between Chinese and Japanese corporations, so everyone in our team has a strong Chinese and Japanese background. We understand both countries' innovation and cross-cultural communication.

Q: As mentioned earlier, the services provided by your company include building a bridge between local investors in Shanghai and Japanese enterprises. How do you build a trusting relationship between the two sides?

A: If Japanese enterprises want to succeed in China, I think it is necessary to find a Chinese partner. They need to fight for financial investment, such as venture capital and pre-equity. If any Japanese start-ups want to raise funds, we will advise them to verify the past investment records of investors, etc. It is essential to find the right investors. As for strategic investment, we will recommend them to confirm whether investors have suitable resources, such as sales channels, manufacturing capacity, etc. In most cases, Japanese start-ups do not know which potential investors are suitable, so we will provide them with advice and help them find the right investors to let them make the right decisions.

Questions to Alejo


Q: Did you have any competitors when you started your business in Shanghai?

A: Our firm Parral Consulting mainly handles international business from Latin America (especially Argentina) and Chinese companies. The population of Latin America living in Shanghai is relatively small, and most law firms do not give them priority as target clients, so my company has few competitors in Shanghai. I am also one of the few lawyers in Shanghai who can speak Spanish. Maybe the only one.

Q: Many overseas entrepreneurs are still hesitant about investing in Shanghai. What do you think of this situation?

A: Much of what we do has to do with dealing with the communication between Argentinian enterprises in Shanghai and Chinese investors. Chinese investors are often not the best choice because many Chinese companies have too many tough conditions and regulations. But for some Chinese investors, many Argentinian businesses are great investment targets. One of my tasks is to help Chinese investors to understand the Argentine's market and corporative ecosystem. Some Unicorn enterprises have promising development prospects and they are suitable for Chinese investors to fund.


Q: Why did you choose Shanghai? What kind of feelings do you have for Shanghai?

A: In Argentina, few people knew about China, and I knew little about Shanghai before graduating. When I first came to this city in 2018, I fell in love with it, and I decided to stay. China's economic strength is mighty. Shanghai's economic growth is also at the forefront of the world, and the Chinese traditional culture's atmosphere here is also very present. Compared with other cities globally, Shanghai is very safe, and the people are very sympathetic. These characteristics make Shanghai unique, aspects that foreign entrepreneurs can intuitively feel from day one. 

Another critical point is that I think Shanghai delivers enthusiasm for the entrepreneur community. When the epidemic broke out, I went back to Argentina, and people around me advised me not to go back to China; nevertheless, I still came back. The epidemic situation in China was difficult, but I was sure that I wanted to return to Shanghai and continue my career. This enthusiasm is very rare and vital. So I think Shanghai is very suitable for foreigners to start a business.


Questions to David

Q: How do you perceive the opportunities and challenges brought to you by Shanghai? Especially during the last 2-3 years?

A: My advantage is that I am proficient in many languages, and entrepreneurs in various countries will be more friendly to a service provided in their own language. Exceptionally few similar consulting institutions in Shanghai can provide my services in those languages, especially Spanish. 

At the same time, we will also put ourselves in a position to think about the actual needs of foreign enterprises during China's development, give them more innovative solutions and enable them to better integrate into the Chinese society. In this regard, I have not met similar competitors in Shanghai. In particular, the service I provide enables my clients to understand better the market, policies, and everything about China. In addition, we also offer matchmaking services to foreign enterprises. As middlemen, we ensure a smooth cooperation between them to avoid misunderstandings.

Q: Do foreign entrepreneurs welcome local investors in China? As an entrepreneur, do you have any comments or suggestions on relationships with investors or local partners?

A: What is impressive about Chinese investors is that they will conduct a comprehensive background check to ensure their investment is successful. When facing foreign enterprises, they will be very cautious, and opening the Chinese market requires a lot of investment. Therefore, if any Spanish brand wants to enter the Chinese market, it must first find its brand positioning and conduct market research according to whatever business they do, allowing investors to know more about them and improve their chances.

Q: Do you think Shanghai is ready for entrepreneurs? What do you suggest about it?

A: There are both developed and developing Spanish-speaking countries. Although there has been a lot of cooperation at a national level, many people still don't know Shanghai because there is not much promotion in these countries. Spain is currently the country with the most significant number of Chinese language students in Europe, and people are very interested in China. The Internet is helping, but there is a lack of promotion for Shanghai on the Spanish network. Also, many people in Spanish-speaking countries do not understand English. I think the Shanghai municipal government should not give up the markets of these 26 Spanish-speaking countries that share the language and have similar cultures. If you want me to give a suggestion, I think we should increase the channels to promote the Shanghai entrepreneurship market in Spanish. That is my best suggestion, though I believe that Meet Expat Entrepreneurs @Shanghai initiative is doing quite well in spreading the word. 

Closing remarks

Although Covid-19 has disrupted many people's lives and work, it has also brought new opportunities in unexpected encounters. In this free webinar, three guests talked about "innovation," "competition," and "opportunity," and although the epidemic has brought pressure and challenges, they have found a unique entry point. How to use your advantages, explore the potential demands in this market, build your own company's core competitiveness, and use your resources to help others while achieving your success... We hope this webinar can benefit and inspire everyone.

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