Entering TechTemple’s main office in the heart of old Beijing, one can’t miss the floating Buddha wearing a helmet with the tag “Startup Zen”. But what does it mean?
Jerry Wang, the founder of TechTemple, argues entrepreneurship is a place to practice Zen and startup life is a process of meditation and self-cultivation.
Wang says the key to entrepreneurship is not about chasing money, it’s about an entrepreneur chasing a better self and to achieve self-enhancement.
“Entrepreneurs actually change a lot through the process of entrepreneurship,” Wang says.
“We liken it to upgrading yourself, everyone becomes a better version of themselves. Entrepreneurship feels more like practicing Buddhism or Taoism.”
And that’s the philosophy of TechTemple, one of the largest co-working spaces in Beijing.
The co-working space houses 90 teams spread over 6,000 square meters in three different locations: two in Beijing and one in Shenzhen, southern China.
How TechTemple came to be
Wang, who founded TechTemple in September 2013, didn’t plan on running a co-working space initially.
The 39-year-old needed a bigger space to host his startup at the time, and he had his eyes set on a 2,000-square-meter loft in an industrial building in Beixinqiao in eastern Beijing.
He rented the loft, which became TechTemple’s headquarters. Besides using the loft as his team’s new office, he also opened it up to other entrepreneurs to rent the space.
His team took some time to fine-tune running the co-working space and within nine months in July 2014, the space at HQ was full — all 270 desks were occupied.
That prompted Wang to open a second location in Beijing, also on the east side of town in Sanlitun, and then a third location in Shenzhen, both in April 2015.
Wang explains he set up shop on the east side of Beijing instead of in Zhongguancun, commonly considered the Silicon Valley of China, because he thinks the core region of Beijing is still on the east side and nearer to downtown.
He says though Zhongguancun, in the northwest of Beijing, has more IT infrastructure companies like America’s Intel, Oracle and IBM, nowadays, most entrepreneurs establishing businesses are consumer-driven and they tend to live near where they work. He sees this as a trend not just in China but globally.
“You see a lot of new entrepreneurs based in downtown San Francisco, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and also in New York,” Wang says. “But in the past, this would never happen in New York. The same is true of Beijing, these people are located in Sanlitun, Dongzhimen and Guo Mao.”
Neighborhoods featuring many restaurants and popular bars are useful for entrepreneurs to socialize and conduct meetings. Wang notes that being located close to these places also gives entrepreneurs access to their target consumers.
“In these places, carrying out market research and doing promotions is simple for TMT (technology, media, telecommunications) startups, as the target customers are here,” Wang says. “The trend is interesting too, as people work where they live and love downtown culture.”
Serving the people
Although TechTemple does not offer a fixed period incubator or accelerator program, it offers incubation-related services including legal, administration, counselling, event hosting and financial advisory services to its members.
Wang says one of the challenges of having an incubation program in China is a lack of mentors to guide young entrepreneurs. He says unlike the United States, where many successful entrepreneurs are retiring to assume the role of mentor, China’s economy recently just came to an important place and everyone is busy working on their own company.
“[Xiaomi’s] Lei Jun is very busy, so he can’t be a mentor,” Wang says. “Maybe many years after these men retire, mentors will become more available in China.”
Wang, who has been an entrepreneur since 2000, wanted to create his co-working space as a platform for entrepreneurs to share successes, failures, pain and experience. He wanted the environment to be what he refers to as “by the founders, of the founders and for the founders”.
Like most co-working places, TechTemple is building a community. Previous events held at TechTemple included Angelhack, Startup Weekend, Startup Grind and Chinaccelerator. Wang says they hold four to five events a week during peak time, making it a popular internet-related tech space on the east side of town.
TechTemple raised USD 50 million in early 2015 which the co-working space has directly invested into startups. TechTemple plans to raise USD 30 million at the next round to invest back into their ecosystem. Wang says they have already invested in more than 20 startups in their community and he is confident that a few of them are future unicorns.
Wang says TechTemple is interested in investing in Series A Plus and Series B but not early stage startups. He opens the angel round to TechTemple’s six VC partners.
What’s in store for the future
With all three of TechTemple’s locations running at full capacity at the moment, Wang is looking to open more spaces. Three new locations are under construction: two more in Beijing and one more in Shenzhen focused on hardware.
TechTemple aims to have 12 locations by the end of 2016. With multiple locations in one city, Wang says this strategy actually helps to keep costs down as the management cost is the same for multiple locations. He adds that another benefit is a community is more likely to come into existence. He is even considering opening a location in the U.S. in the future.
Wang isn’t stopping at expanding TechTemple’s physical space however, Wang is also building an online startup community to provide different services including toolkit, an information center, virtual classes, recruiting and a digital market.
“We want to build a startup version of Facebook,” Wang says. “Unlike Crunchbase which is an information site, we want to do more service integration with social media and community,” he says.
His team is currently developing an online platform with a target launch scheduled for Q2 2016.
Through the services TechTemple provides, Wang hopes his co-working space can serve as a global bridge for entrepreneurial exchange, especially for Chinese startups going overseas and foreign startups expanding in China.
Wang brought a team of Israeli entrepreneurs to Beijing in 2015 and the British Chancellor, George Osborne, also spoke at TechTemple during his five-day tour in China back in September.
“There isn’t a platform in China doing these kind of exchanges right now, we want to do this well by strengthening our cross-border exchanges and cooperation,” Wang says.
With contributions from Yang Lai
(All photos authorized by TechTemple. )