ZOLLHOF goes China: Experiencing the Future of Digitalization & Mobility in Asia

By Benjamin Bauer

When we think about business in China, many people still hold on to outdated clichées such as economic espionage and poor quality. What the majority doesn’t consider: over the last decades, China has managed to grow one of the most innovative economies worldwide — especially in the field of digitalization. But not only that: the digital mindset allures many entrepreneurs and startups to China’s megacities, creating a pool of knowledge and innovation in the Far East.

What a view — the skyline of Shanghai at night!

Being part of ZOLLHOF — Tech Incubator, I, of course, have always been curious to experience the spirit and velocity of innovation abroad, but especially in Asia. When I got the offer to join the Bavarian secretary of the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy, for a delegation visit about mobility and construction to the greater bay area, I couldn’t resist and took the chance immediately!

The one-week stay in China together with great delegation partners from the business sector as well as the Bavarian government resulted in a valuable exchange about entrepreneurship, sustainability and politics. Next to different panel discussions and official receptions, we also got the chance to take a look behind the scenes of popular car manufacturers’ e-mobility development, such as BMW, VW and NIO, also known as the Chinese Tesla.

Feeling all futuristic next to this electric car from NIO!

Working in the digital field it is super important to always keep an eye on the different startup hotspots around the world. Coming to China, I once again realized that there are just as many great areas and infrastructure for entrepreneurs as at the popular startup hubs like Silicon Valley and Isreal and that we can just learn so much from other startup and business cultures, especially in China.

Check out my top 3 highlights:

  1. High Level of Digitalization
    The Chinese use their smartphones as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Without a phone, you can basically do nothing. It is used to stay in contact — obviously, to pay basically everywhere, as a working device and also when it comes to transportation. If you cross the road when the light is red, it will scan your face, figure out what you did wrong and send your ticket directly to your phone. As a nice addition, the display placed next to the road will show your face to the other pedestrians. Fascinating but scary at the same time!
  2. Use of E-Mobility
    It is really impressive how European countries still debate whether and how e-mobility can be spread across cities whereas China simply just does ist. Every bus and most of the scooters you’ll find on the streets of Shenzhen is already full-electric — amazing, right? It gets even better: In Shenzhen, not only the busses but also 99% of all taxis have electric engines.
  3. Startup Incubation
    Did you know that the startup Musical.ly now known as TikTok was supported by startup incubator TechTemple in Shenzhen? I am always interested in how other incubators design their processes and how they help entrepreneurs realize their great ideas. After all the different new impressions on mobility and digitalization in China, I was kind of surprised that the incubation program was a lot like ours at ZOLLHOF. Stay tuned, maybe we’ll expand to the greater bay area soon! ;)
You might not realize it at first sight, but almost all scooters in the big cities of the greater bay area are full-electric now!

If you are a tech enthusiast like me you should definitely check out one of the craziest digitalization hot spots worldwide: China! And by now, we should finally rearrange our view on China and their sense of business and admit that we can get so much inspiration from their passion and drive for innovation.

Benjamin is the CEO of ZOLLHOF — Tech Incubator. Since his school days, the avid entrepreneur and tech enthusiast has been active in the world of startups. During his studies, he founded the ed-tech startup UniCoach in Nuremberg and the startup association Gründermagnet in Berlin.