Monday, October 5, 2009

"Innovation Works" in China

Kai-Fu Lee is an engineering whiz who has left Microsoft and Google to start his own  venture to promote and fund innovation in China. It is called “Innovation Works”  and it will give Chinese entrepreneurs opportunity and structure to brainstorm and build companies “to the point that they are ready to get multimillion-dollar funding” from Innovation Works’ angel investors. This is the first organization of the kind in China, and Lee refuses to call Innovation Works an “incubator” because of associations with the dot-com crash in Silicon Valley. 

Lee talks about how Chinese entrepreneurs are different from western ones in that they have a lot less experience, and he claims that it has nothing to do with the culture or government. Because of this, Lee is making room for a lot of structured mentoring and “hand-holding” at Innovation Works. It will not be as “loosely and organically organized like in Silicon Valley.” Lee admits that this kind of organizational model requires “a very unique kind of leader” to make it work in a place like China. 

There are a few points that I want to bring up about this venture. In class last week, Prof. Robbins stressed that everyone can be innovative, which is something that I agree with. However, I disagree with Lee that Chinese entrepreneurial inexperience is not related to culture or governance. At the same time, I think that the kind of education system a person is taught in affects a lot of their technical and critical thinking skills. Additionally, I can’t help but think that growing up in ideologically different places will also create differences in people’s willingness and practice of thinking critically and a desire to innovate.  

Secondly, Lee’s system at Innovation Works, with a lot more structure in brainstorming and organization-building, is good for inexperienced entrepreneurs in the United States as well as in China. If American innovators can’t learn from missteps, they need more opportunities for mentoring and structure in creating innovation. Would this kind of hand-holding in American organizations limit innovation? 

All of the quotes in this post come from this interview with Kai-Fu Lee, by Rob Hof, Sep 06 2009.


  1. This comment might take the discussion in a different direction, but when people talk about innovation in America, Silicon Valley always pops up first. What about those innovators in small-town USA who aren't the creating the next big product and releasing into the "Blue Ocean" market? What about John Doe in Pontotoc, Mississippi who builds and operates a better, cleaner, more efficient laundry mat in town so that people now don't have to drive 20 minutes to get their clothes washed. If the purpose of innovation is to solve problems, maybe we need to look for the smaller problems around us to really have an impact with our "innovations."

  2. I agree with Ben. We tend to look for the technology innovators. I consider those amazing but I keep on looking for innovations associated with educational organizations. Sometimes it seems that the efforts iare small or a review of the old methods...