China cultivates VC ecosystem

The country's State Council announced last week that it hopes to boost the local ecosystem by changing a host of rules, such as treating foreign investors equally to domestic entities.

China, it could be argued, doesn't have much catching up to do when it comes to supporting its startup ecosystem, but that is not stopping the country from aiming to improve it anyway.

Only a few weeks ago, editor-in-chief James Mawson noted in an editorial that China held "$336.4bn for investing in the nation’s startups at the end of 2015", a trebling since 2013 and spread across 780 government guidance funds. This has since increased again to $383bn across 911 funds at the end of June 2016.

At the time of that editorial, China reportedly had just approved another vehicle – a state-owned $30bn fund to be established in Shenzhen.

Then, last Thursday, the country's state council announced it would increase support to the domestic venture capital scene and change the rules for international players.

As part of that strategy, industry, insurance providers and incubators are set to be encouraged further to back startups.

In future, state-owned enterprises will be able to set up their own investment funds. VC firms with patient capital, meanwhile, will benefit from a range of preferential policies, including tax cuts.

Over-the-counter stock trading is also set to be simplified in order to boost direct funding.

The more fundamental and far-reaching change, however, is the central government's decision to let foreign entities play by the same rules as domestic investors, significantly simplifying access to the Chinese market and reducing the administrative burden on potential investors.

Simultaneously, the government has promised to fight illegal fundraising, protect the ecosystem from regional and systemic financial risk and develop its regulation framework further.

The announcement should be welcome news to international players that have watched local actors and provincial governments set up fund after fund and produce significant funding rounds, such as game streaming platform Douyu TV's $227m series C last month.

The decision to let state-owned enterprises establish their own investment arms also promises to increase corporate venturing activities in the country, which is already high but where the dominant players are currently all local.

IDG Capital Partners, the local investment affiliate of media company International Data Group, participated in 94 deals between 2011 and August 31 2016, according to our deals database GCV Analytics. Internet company Tencent follows with 71, and conglomerate Legend Holdings with 49.

Apart from IDG, publisher Bertelsmann also appears as a quasi-domestic unit through its local corporate venturing division Bertelsmann Asia Investments (BAI).

The only truly foreign player is Intel Capital, the investment arm of the semiconductor manufacturer, and an international force with the required firing power to penetrate the current rules and regulations without resorting to a local affiliate, such as IDG and BAI – a prohibitive measure to all but the largest corporates.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether China's recent efforts will have the desired effect. China Money Network earlier today noted that the country's government guidance funds sound great on paper but present a challenge when it comes to exits, which has already led to a reluctance from private players to manage these vehicles.

China seems to have great ambitions for its venture capital ecosystem. It will continue to be an interesting market to follow.

See more from this Government Report: People's Republic of China

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