Chinese startup incubator ACASE a coup for Melbourne

Victoria is leading the charge for closer commercial ties between Australia and China, and now Melbourne has been chosen at the home of a new A$20 million Chinese government startup incubator.

The ground-breaking development is being overseen by the Australia-China Association of Scientists and Entrepreneurs (ACASE), and CEO Frank Fu says there is exciting potential for closer collaboration between the two countries in this area.

“There are lots of connections between China and Australia, but currently not so much in the startup entrepreneurship area,’’ says Dr Fu.

“Australian entrepreneurs tend to mainly look to North America and Europe. They realise they need to know more about China, but they are unsure about how to go about accessing the Chinese market.’’

Unleashing potential

ACASE is a Melbourne-based non-profit volunteer organisation founded by Dr Fu and is dedicated to bringing researchers in the two countries closer together. In turn, support is given towards transforming their academic work into viable projects by providing them with training, coaching, networking and consulting.

“There are many incubators and accelerators in Melbourne, but there are not many for researchers and scientists. There are many PhDs, post docs or professors who find it hard to get into such programs because the technology they may be developing is not as well understood as for other startups.’’

ACASE is specifically focused on helping scientists based in Australia to access Chinese funding and markets.

“Australia has a very small population. When you talk about commercialisation, you need to have a big market,’’ says Dr Fu. “China is the world’s biggest market.’’

Startup takes off

Last year, a project supported by ACASE secured almost A$3 million investment from Chinese venture capitalists. Australia Advanced Aerospace Technologies (AAAT), which develops robust industrial UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) capable of stringing power lines and other onerous tasks, was formed by three RMIT University alumni while they were completing their PhDs.

Dr Fu said what made this deal unique was that the Chinese investors agreed that the business should remain based in Australia.

“Generally, if you want to get investment from China then you have to move to China,’’ says Dr Fu.

“But in this case the business will remain in Melbourne. This is because the investors realise that RMIT has such strong research capabilities in aerospace engineering that this is the best place for it to be located.’’

A second company is being set up in China to handle marketing, and the two will work together.

Dr Fu says ACASE members and affiliates have many other equally promising projects on the boil.

“They just need help to connect with Chinese markets or other markets to be able to go forward. Researchers always need money to feed back into their research so they can progress.’’

International competition

ACASE also helps manage the Melbourne chapter of the Chunhui Cup Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition, an international event sponsored by the Chinese government.

“Last year was the eleventh year of the Chunhui Cup, they had four overseas regional competitions of which Melbourne was one,’’ says Dr Fu.

“After the competition’s final ceremony in Guangzhou in December, all entrants were invited back to China. We had 12 winners, so we took them on a tour of a number of cities including Beijing, and we spent about two weeks in China.’’

Interesting times

“This is going to be a very interesting year for ACASE,’’ says Dr Fu, who admits he struggles to find time to devote to the organisation’s growing activities as he also has a full-time job as an IT professional, and a young family.

“We are in final discussions about the incubator with a Chinese local government and with Victorian State Government, who have given us a lot of support.

“We aim to make an announcement in March.’’