By Alan Murray and Geoffrey Smith
December 5, 2017

Good morning,

Can China innovate? I’ve explored that question in previous posts, but this morning I’m doing it after a day spent listening to presentations from 15 of the most promising startups in China, brought together for the first-ever Fortune Brainstorm Tech International, in Guangzhou.

Jay Walker, serial entrepreneur and founder of, started the day by highlighting the forces inherent in Chinese culture that resist innovation. Confucianism honors the old, while entrepreneurs must reject the old to develop the new. Moreover, the Chinese state and its emphasis on stability work against those who chase disruption.

But what today’s conversations demonstrated is that Chinese entrepreneurs also have some very significant advantages over their Western counterparts. One is an immense and demanding sea of consumers, that are driving leading-edge innovations in areas like e-commerce and online payments. It’s what enables bike-sharing company Mobike, for instance, to host close to 30 million rides a day in China—equal to what all bike sharing companies in the U.S. do in a year. The outsized population also is an advantage in biotechnology, where new drugs and therapies can be discovered and tested much more efficiently than in the West. In addition, strong government support is helping to provide both capital and talent for the innovators. The result is a burgeoning start-up scene that defies the traditional reputation of China as a copycat culture.

That’s why China has taken a lead in the development of drones (see Clay Chandler’s piece in last month’s edition of Fortune), as DJI President Roger Luo told the group in Guangzhou, or why there are more “mobility” platforms—bike sharing, car sharing, motorized scooters, etc.—in China than in the U.S., as Mobike’s Davis Wang boasted.

The audience chose five winners from the group of 15, each of whom won a new car, courtesy of Guangzhou Automobile. The winners will be honored at the Fortune Global Forum here, which begins tomorrow and lasts through the end of the week, and will include interviews with Tim Cook, Jack Ma, Pony Ma, Terry Gou, Carlos Brito, Bill Ford, Chuck Robbins, Henry Kravis and more.

News below.


Alan Murray


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