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U Toronto center partners with Chinese firm to give start-ups ‘soft landing’

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: March 14th, 2018

A growing number of university start-ups are seeking to access the Chinese market, but that’s something often easier said than done. Who do you contact in China to help you make connections? Who are the manufacturers you can trust? What regulations could impede your efforts? What about funding sources?

The Impact Centre at the University of Toronto is seeking to address these and other challenges by establishing a partnership with Chinese investment firm, which will provide start-ups breaking into that huge market with a “soft landing” program.

According to the center, will “provide start-ups with legal, marketing and other support services.” In exchange, the Toronto center will offer training courses in entrepreneurship for Chinese students, researchers, and start-ups.

This partnership fits comfortably within the Impact Centre mission, says Dr. M. Cynthia Goh, its director. “We are looking to introduce university science to society,” she says. ‘One way [to do that] is to nurture science-based start-ups.” Goh says the Impact Centre seeks to help start-ups in every step of the process, from very early research, to helping build the company, to helping the managers understand the business model, to developing the prototype, and understanding where to go next.

The “soft landing” partnership in China, she adds, is just the beginning of an effort to bring these start-ups global attention and access to new markets.

Goh says that the Impact Centre had talked with many potential partners before deciding on “These are the first people who really understood what we’re doing and what we need,” she explains. will even provide basic services, such as translation. “They’ll help us with communication, as well as with their network, which we will leverage,” Goh says. “There are so many people there — who do I trust? How do we get to production faster?”

How the model unfolds in practice will vary from case to case, Goh explains. “If a company is ready to go to market, there may not be a prime understanding of the IP situation there, so we make sure not to go crazy,” she offers. “Or a company might need to do manufacturing there. In that case, we need to touch base with a partner in manufacturing that we can trust and who can deliver what we expect and ensure IP protection. Or, a company primarily wants access to the market, like a partner with good connections in the distribution channel. There might also be some minor regulatory issues.”

One thing that needs to be sorted out, she adds, is exactly what the structure of the landing will be in China. Do you move the company? Start there? Do you license to a company in China? “We think we know the options better now, and helped us understand that,” says Goh.

A detailed article on the U of T soft landing program appears in the February issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, along with the publication’s 10+ year archive of best practices and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.

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