Shanghai’s Startup Scene Takes Flight

Arie Fasman is a current MBA student at CEIBS. Photo by Nathan Allen

Arie Fasman is a current MBA student at CEIBS. Photo by Nathan Allen

For now, Fasman has joined a team of classmates to provide consulting projects for Shanghai-area startups and outsider startups looking to bust into Shanghai. The team has tapped into CEIBS’ robust alumni network, particularly at the executive MBA level, which graduates about 750 each year. They’ve also used the new E-Lab, an artsy new space for CEIBS students to develop entrepreneurial projects. “It’s not like you bring them to some classroom or weird, shady office,” Fasman points out. And the clients have been coming in droves, he says. “We are having more demand than we can supply. The ground here in Shanghai is very fertile to open your own startup.”


Sarah Northrop, also a current CEIBS MBA candidate, sees it the same way. “It seems like a really fertile atmosphere,” Northrop, 32, says. The East Coast native moved her family of four from Pacifica, California to Shanghai when her husband took a temporary position at Apple’s Shanghai factories. With a 7- and 9-year-old, Northrop spent the first couple years in Shanghai learning Mandarin and part-time homeschooling her children. But after her two daughters enrolled in an international school, Northrop, a former physical therapist, decided she wanted to dive deeper into business and began taking the GMAT.

Despite living only about three miles away, Northrop didn’t realize CEIBS existed until she found an exchange program with Tufts University, where she had earned her undergraduate degree. Once Northrop was accepted, she moved the family again — this time a block away from CEIBS and, conveniently, a block away from her daughters’ international schools.

Sarah Northrop. Courtesy photo

Sarah Northrop. Courtesy photo

Since then, Northrop has become active in the school’s entrepreneurship scene through leadership of the entrepreneurship club. “The scene is so vibrant,” Northrop says of CEIBS. “There are activities all of the time. Meetups. Networking. Seminars.” CEIBS also organizes startup visits and “founder dating nights,” Northrop says.

Northrop has also gained experience through a connection with Greenberg, Chiang, and Gululu. “They realized they didn’t have a mom on their team,” Northrop says. “And I’m the mom. And I’m also an American mom.” Northrop was indeed a score for Gululu as it attempts to break into the U.S. market.

And she equally gained some valuable startup experience from them. Northrop did everything from copy editing and analyzing Facebook ads to developing full-fledged digital marketing strategies and generating content for SEO purposes. “My job title would change depending on who I was emailing and what day,” she laughs during a lunch meeting at a vegetarian spot not far from Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters.


Of course the path to startup success does not come easily or without lots of hurdles — especially for foreigners. “If you want to do business in China, you need to know people,” says Northrop, bluntly. “You need to be good friends with local people to get in and establish yourself and trust. And we have that (requirement) here (in the United States), but it’s even deeper there.”

Knowing people and the language is especially necessary when it comes to tapping into China’s massive venture capital funds, Fasman agrees. “It’s possible to be successful here without the language but the chances of this are extremely low,” he says. “You need to speak the language. They (investors) will expect you to know some level of Chinese to show your commitment to being here.”

Ju says if you don’t plan on being in China long-term, to not even bother with establishing MBA roots. “If you don’t plan to be in China long-term, there is not a lot of reason to come to China for an MBA,” he says. But if China is your landing spot, Ju adds, there is no better place to start than CEIBS. “If you want to take a crack at entrepreneurship in China, you should come here. For sure,” he says.

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