China, A Dynamic Playground for Start-Ups and SMEs

Based in Shanghai for 8 years, Anne-Sophie Gauvin is Consultant in Corporate Development at Pramex International, President of JEF Shanghai*, and Board Member of French Chamber of Commerce in China Comex X.

Today, she talks about the opportunities and challenges of China’s entrepreneurial scene for SMEs and start-ups.

1. Could you briefly introduce yourself and your career path?

Everything started with an internship in a French law firm in summer 2012. I was planning to stay for 2 months. 8 years after I am not an intern anymore but still in constant learning and admiration of China. This first working experience was a revelation. I was sure of 2 things: my eagerness to make a career in this country and be part of the movement of businesses initiated from within China.

In 2014, I took the decision to go back to school and specialized myself in Chinese business law for a 2-year executive LLM program at the Fudan University.

In 2017, I joined Pramex International, a leading French consulting firm in international development. With a tailor-made approach, we are helping and accompanying daily French companies taking the important decision to develop their activities in China. Besides, since 2019 I am extremely proud and honoured to have been chosen to be the president of the association JEF Shanghai.

2. Let’s talk first about your current work at Pramex. Which are the problems SMEs willing to expand in China encounter the most according to your experience? Do you have any advice?

Pramex is a key player in the French-China SMEs ecosystem, this type of businesses is the core of our efforts, and we walk alongside them to succeed in their missions. Regarding your question, I will not say there are problems but opportunities. Indeed, contrary to the common thinking, the size of the SMEs is their strength. They are very agile and embody the perfect scale to face China’s chances and odds. Today, we have to see China as a land of creation where SMEs can give the right answer to the right people and business: it is a win-win situation.

Today, we have to see China as a land of creation where SMEs can give the right answer to the right people and business: it is a win-win situation.

My advice for them: learn, understand and share about yourself and, most importantly, learn about China’s multi-faceted environment.

3. Could you give us an example ?

You! Centdegrés contacted Pramex 12 years ago in order to organize their operations in China. Today you are the leading French design agency in China specialized in the local culture embodiment. A success story for both of us!

4. About your role as President of JEF Shanghai* now (Jeunes Entrepreneurs Francophones Shanghai, i.e. Shanghai French Young Entrepreneurs). Could you tell us more about the entrepreneurial scene in China ?

The JEF journey is amazing! The Jeunes Entrepreneurs Francophones Association was created more than 10 years ago by the impulse of several French institutions. Today, we keep pursuing the initial credo of the association : Partager, Développer et Entreprendre (Share, Develop and Undertake). Today in China, to have a creator mindset is not anymore an opportunity but a necessity.

Today in China, to have a creator mindset is not anymore an opportunity but a necessity.

This year, 8 projects are carried by the association and its members from true entrepreneurship initiative to environment awareness always with the same core values: the desire to create, to share skills and to learn in a French speaking community. Since the creation of the association, we saw some projects become real enterprises such as Shanghai Young Bakers (SYB), a charity program based in Shanghai. It provides a fully sponsored training in French and Chinese bakery and pastry to disadvantaged Chinese youth from 17 to 23 years of age. They today work closely with other companies to ensure the integration of their young bakers such as Accor. Another success story : Le Milu, a handy guide developed in collaboration with the French consulate in Shanghai, offering practical advices on everything you need to know when you arrive in China!

5. In your opinion, which role did China economic environment play on the entrepreneurial scene ? What is for you the future of entrepreneurship in China ? How do you animate the Chinese entrepreneurial network ?

China is playing a unique role in shaping the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. With its environment, China offer a scene where production, creation and operation are closely connected and extremely efficient. Which means if today you are young, dynamic and passionate, with a sharp idea, a lot of energy to put in development and a curiosity about the local ecosystem: China is for you!

With its environment, China offer a scene where production, creation and operation are closely connected and extremely efficient.

I would like to share with you a special project for me carried by the JEF: Pitch ta WFOE contest. For 2 years, French speaking entrepreneurs are invited to defend their entrepreneurial project created in China. 5 projects to remember from last year carried by 4 talented entrepreneurs that pitch their projects in front of a jury of experts: Doucéa (Natacha Tarascon), Returning Plates (Nidal Zribi), Feminity (Loic Charvet), Pure Breath (Hugo Drevet), and our 2019 laureate Julie Chanal with HappyNest.

Pitch ta WFOE, an initiative of JEF Shanghai to encourage entrepreneurship in China

More than a contest, it is a booster program for growing creators where they can exchange, be mentored and challenged in an environment favorable for creation. We invite them to create and more than that, to create in China.

*JEF (Jeunes Entrepreneurs Francophones, i.e. Shanghai French Young Entrepreneurs) is an association created by and for young professionals in Shanghai. The objective of the JEF is to develop the network of French speaking young professionals and to support project leaders (be they social, business, humanitarian, cultural…).