Interview with Entrepreneurship Director at Zhejiang, one of the top Universities in China

top Universities in China

Students of the Global Entrepreneurship Program spend their second semester studying entrepreneurship at Zhejiang University School of Management in China, one of the top Universities in China. Mark Greeven, Director of the Global Entrepreneurship Program on behalf of Zhejiang University is an expert in entrepreneurship in China, having researched the topic for the past 11 years starting with his PhD project focusing on Chinese private enterprise at Rotterdam School of Management. We caught up with Mark about how the Global Entrepreneurship Program is unique in its approach to entrepreneurship education, the benefits of studying entrepreneurship at one of the top Universities in China, how students of the program develop after studying and working across 3 continents and how students can learn to be entrepreneurs both inside and outside the classroom.

top Universities in ChinaMark, could you please share with us how you came to teach entrepreneurship at Zhejiang University?

With over 10 years of experience in China, I took up the challenge of Program Director of the Global Entrepreneurship Program on behalf of Zhejiang University in 2013, one of the top universities in China. I am involved in many aspects of Chinese entrepreneurship, including research, membership of the World Entrepreneurship Forum, as well as a mentor at an incubator in China to help Chinese and foreign entrepreneurial teams to get their projects off the ground.

It’s a really exciting time to be in China right now. Zhejiang is like heaven if you are passionate about entrepreneurship; last year’s epic IPO by Alibaba, China’s largest beverage company Wahaha, Geely car manufacturer who acquired Volvo a few years ago all showcase Zhejiang’s local entrepreneurial spirit. Aside from the large companies that grew out of Zhejiang in the last decade, we also see thousands of new ventures, such as Kuaidi Taxi App challenging traditional industries.

How is entrepreneurship taught during the Global Entrepreneurship Program? How does this differentiate this program from other entrepreneurship masters?

The philosophy of the program is to take students with an interest in entrepreneurship who perhaps already have an idea (or several!) through the different phases of entrepreneurship from an idea to a successful organisation. During their time in France, we tend to focus on idea generation, financing their ventures and getting started. In China, we focus on growing this venture and in the US, we focus on expanding this to a sustainable, global organisation.

The way we teach entrepreneurship is similar to other programs in that we transfer knowledge to students, but this is perhaps only 25% of what we do. This entrepreneurship masters is unique because we focus on learning by doing. Students are exposed to lots of different projects, challenges, experiences, people and cultures. Students also complete an In-Company project in France, China and the US working with local organisations.

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I want to emphasize that I don’t believe that you can really ‘teach’ entrepreneurship; our job is to facilitate the process, challenge our students, create awareness about entrepreneurship in many diverse situations and countries and support their learning throughout the process.

Why study entrepreneurship in China?

China is in the top 3 places globally for entrepreneurs right now, with Zhejiang University being one of the top Universities in China to study entrepreneurship. China is becoming one of the biggest, strongest powers in the world and entrepreneurs have significantly contributed to that. 70-80% of the state’s private sector GDP comes from entrepreneurs, with the private sector really only emerging as a result of private entrepreneurs building up new companies and industries after the 1980s reforms, a few privatizations of state owned firms excluded. It’s therefore really important for our students to have an understanding of this world region not only because it is one of the largest markets worldwide but also because they will be their future business partners, clients and competitors in Europe and the US. A lot of Chinese entrepreneurs are coming to the US and Europe looking to invest. For example Anbang, a Chinese insurance group has recently acquired Dutch insurance company Vivat and we see lots of examples of this.

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Zhejiang University campus, Hangzhou

Meanwhile, the Global Entrepreneurship Program is also a great opportunity for Chinese entrepreneurs looking to set up their organisation in Europe or the US to understand who they will be dealing with, understand the culture, the consumer and create their network in these world regions.

What can be learnt from studying family business during the semester in China?

Students complete one course on family business whilst in China. Particularly in Zhejiang, we see many family businesses contributing to entrepreneurship in the area. For example Wahaha, the largest beverage producer in China is still a family business. So it’s interesting for our students to understand how different entrepreneurs in the same family build up their business. Moreover, some of our cohort will go on to take over family business demands after completing the program, so having an understanding of the implications of family business is really important to them.

What advantage do you think studying across 3 continents give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

When studying, living and working over 3 continents, our students see lots of examples of entrepreneurship across different cultures, meet many people and experience many different companies. During their time in China particularly, our foreign students have to cope with a lot of uncertainties. I notice that by the end of the program, our students have not just grown in their knowledge of entrepreneurship, but also show significant personal growth. It’s interesting to see this in our Chinese students as well; many that were initially doubting their ideas and their ability to be an entrepreneur really grow in confidence and become much surer of themselves.

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Professor Mark Greeven speaking at the Ninth International Symposium on Global Manufacturing and China

I think it’s really important to continue to expose our students to as many different experiences as possible, to give them the ability to adapt and the resilience to survive as an entrepreneur. This is the reason we stick to such a rich and ambitious program format!

At Zhejiang University, are the cohort taught by entrepreneurs, experts in the field of entrepreneurship or both?   

Here I refer to our official website, since it answers this question quite precisely: “Combining the world’s best entrepreneurial teaching with three diverse global markets, the Global Entrepreneurship Program prepares you to be a successful entrepreneur in a global context. You will immerse yourself into a cultural experience far beyond pure academic studies as you will live and work with students from around the globe. And, most importantly, on each continent, you will work on a semester-long consulting project for a local company with students from other countries, reinforcing teamwork on a global level, helping you to acquire practical experience in addition to academic knowledge.”

What opportunities are there outside of the classroom for students to develop their entrepreneurship skills?

We organize the Junior World Entrepreneurship Forum, the Startup Improv event in collaboration with Chinaccelerator where I’m a startup mentor. There’s also Startup Weekend, where we connect the students to Green Zhejiang, one of the top the top and among the first official NGOs in China focusing on water and environment. Moreover, every class has guest speakers and we include field visits to local companies, Zhejiang University’s Science & Technology Park and interact with our EMBA students and alumni.

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Science and Technology Park, Zhejiang University

Could you give some examples of the In-Company projects the students have worked on in China?

The projects vary from coffee shops, travel businesses, internet startups, high tech ventures, etc. Typical projects deal with questions such as market research, business development and strategic change, both for domestic and global markets. Some of our students work on their own company with a team from the entrepreneurship graduate program.

To find out more about the Global Entrepreneurship Program’s semester in China at Zhejiang University, one of the top universities in China, visit the website.

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