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The China connection

Chinese interest in UK technology and innovation is inevitable. Stuart Rock speaks to Cocoon Networks’ John Zai about becoming a major player.

Back in 2013, Shanghai-born entrepreneur John Zai attended a conference in Dublin. Despite the high-quality technology, two things surprised him – valuations were low; and there were no Chinese investors to be seen.

A former student of Birmingham and Southampton universities and having already set up a couple of trading businesses back in China, he saw an opportunity – to create a Chinese VC firm focused on earlystage technology companies in the UK, and more widely across the EU. When not chasing after start-ups at home, Chinese investors had been concentrating on the US and Israel, but, explains Zai, the opportunities were just as good and the valuations were lower in Europe.

His analysis is straightforward: “We need to upgrade.” China can no longer depend on the ‘Made in China’ tag. Neighbouring countries are providing cheaper labour and Western corporations are replacing Chinese factories with plants closer to home, powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics.

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