In search of China's angel investors

By Andy Hamilton

I recently returned from Auckland Mayor Len Brown's inaugural trade mission to China. This was a 12-day, five-city jam-packed road-trip with a focus on generating partnerships and profile for Auckland with Chinese organisations and people.

This is early days for Chinese investors in terms of global engagement. They like "real things - projects and products" from which they can develop the "guanxi" or relationship of trust and mutuality which is very important to them. That means, for the next phase if we want to encourage these partnerships it will need to be project and product-oriented.

In the first case, infrastructure projects here in NZ will be an excellent opportunity.

In the latter case, only when your products are ready for the Chinese market are they interested in seeing how they could assist you to distribute. Though infrastructure investment will be much easier to enable, investment into the other areas is not as well organised and will need to be opportunistic. There might be some very interesting opportunities around partnerships for growing companies of the like of Synlait, or more infrastructure like in NZX and our venture capital community.

One opportunity we identified in the lead-up to the visit that was confirmed in China is the lack of "formalised angel investment networks" in their cities. In countries like NZ there has been a significant build-out and growth over the past five years on this, which is something we can contribute back to the Chinese - the knowledge and awareness of how to do angel investing and how to assist small young companies to grow.

We have an advantage in assisting China with this over the European and American countries for obvious reasons. Our first step was back here in New Zealand where we have launched a Chinese Angel Network, under the auspices of Auckland's ICE Angels, led by Brent Ogilvie who is a board member of ICE Angels. We have a group of Chinese investors who will be looking to make investments in Auckland start-ups working to access the China market. Through the mayor, we will be offering Auckland's sister cities the opportunity for knowledge transfer and assistance to their cities to create and build out angel networks that can greatly assist the young companies in China to grow.

This is an example of "giving" to China that will I am sure come back in spades in the future.

Andy Hamilton is CEO of The Icehouse

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