Publicize Passport: Global Startup Awards, Changsha, China

By 16 January, 2020

eddie at GSA

While many people see December as a month to put their feet up before the holidays, I saw it as a time to take a 30-hour journey to Changsha, China for the Global Startup Awards

That may seem crazy but it was the perfect opportunity for me to learn more about different business practices around the world and see a completely different culture up close and personal.

First, some context on the event.

The Global Startup Awards (GSA) is the largest independent startup ecosystem competition. Beginning in Denmark in 2012, GSA annually selects and awards the most innovative and forward-thinking startups across 60 different countries and three different continents.

This year’s prizes went to:

China: expectations vs reality

I visited Chengdu in the Sichuan Province in China 15 years ago. The China I experienced aligned with my pre-conceptions of provincial China. It was extremely busy, street food everywhere, and very, very messy.

However, my return painted a different picture.  

As the Vice-Chancellor said during the welcome ceremony, the skyline of Changsha was modeled after several U.S. cities, Atlanta, Georgia’s in particular. And he wasn’t lying. From every vantage point in the hotel, the Changsha skyline extended as far as the eye could see. It’s important to note that the pollution was so dense that the eye couldn’t see all that far but the city was nonetheless remarkably developed. 

Just outside of the hotel was the Cultural Arts Center, which looked more like a spaceship from Star Trek than any land-locked building I had ever seen. 

Granted, it’s still disorganized. Yet, great steps have been taken to bring some order to the chaos. This is not only due to the restrictions for which China has been in the news for but more so the overall structure and layout of Changsha. This showcases China’s transformative overhaul in the past 15 years. 

What I saw was a country becoming more technologically advanced and making break-throughs I’m yet to see in Latin America. For example, I explored Changsha’s technological district, where I experienced self-driving bus technologies, which is developed around Changsha’s Self Driving Car Testing grounds, one of the largest in China. 

This testing facility is built to allow large buses and smaller vehicles to experiment with what driving on a highway would feel like. What was most interesting about this experience is to see the long term focus of these initiatives, we are talking about technologies that will not be regulated for the next ten years at least, but organizations like CiDi have found a way to make this work in the short run. 

The city was Changsha was full of different types of testing roads in order to fine-tune this technology. If you told me this 15 years ago, I’d have thought you were crazy!

My role at the event

The Global Ecosystem Awards Ceremony and the invite-only Global Ecosystem Summit, organized by Cathay Group and Sinofaith IP Group, took place in the impressive venue of the Meixi Lake Hotel.

I was humbled to be invited to monitor two different panels at the event. These were:

  1. Productivity and how to manage teams’ productivity
  2. Nordics, Africa, and Asia, and the potential of these areas

The loosely mediated panels were an open discussion to share ideas and predictions for the future. The attendees were from around the world and it highlighted the differences in how business practices differ from region, country, and continent. 

I’m now going to dive deeper into some of the key takeaways from these panels:

Productivity and how to manage a teams’ productivity

There was one striking feature that came out of his panel:

The differing opinions on productivity from the global community. 

In spite of this, there seemed to be consensus on one crucial point. Any forced work or activity that looks like a task acts as a deterrent for productivity.

I mean this should be common sense, right?

It seems that for true productivity to flourish, you need people to love what they do. 

When it comes to communication, there didn’t seem to be one single style of communication that worked better than others. It depended on the culture and the structure of a company. 

We had panelists from Malaysia, Hungary, and China (to name a few) However, this mish-mash of different nationalities was unable to agree on one tactic of communication.

The future of productivity

The big takeaway regarding the future of productivity for startups is that it needs to be tackled head-on. 

The differing opinions about productivity in the workplace shows that no one has been able to bottle true productivity yet.

Big companies who seem to have cracked the code come and go. This volatility and unpredictability show that there is no one approach to this. I’d recommend companies to continuously be looking at new ways to work on productivity.

Nordics, Africa, and Asia, and the potential of these areas

A lot of this panel was based around common misconceptions that people have of these particular regions. 

I’d like to go through each region one by one and look at the different misconceptions and how the panel members debunked them.


A spokesperson from the Nordic region was keen to dispel the myth that people from the Nordic region are lazy. This perspective appeared to be due to many countries in this region adopting a four day work week and a heavy focus on work-life balance.

He believed that other parts of the world don’t understand this because they haven’t experienced extreme focus. People in the Nordics are laser-focused.

Let’s put it this way:

When they’re at home, they’re at home.

When they’re at work, they’re at work. 

Simple, right?

In the west, startup culture is aimed towards working yourself into the ground, sleeping at the office, and making megabucks.

However, Nordic startups seem to focus more on stability and achieving a balance that works for their employees. 


The biggest misconception when it came to Africa was that, as a continent, it’s extremely disorganized. 

Philip Kiracofe, CEO of Startupbootcamp, stated that instead of being disorganized, it’s more a case of the continent doing business a little different from the west. 

In Africa, the continent runs on social contracts. There are a lot of verbal agreements and, as a result, a smaller paper trail.

East Asia

The negative Asian stereotypes seemed to be largely related to the quality of life in the East.

An ex-pat from Eastern Europe moved to China a few years back. The questions from back home always seemed to be the same. Assumptions of her living in an apartment that resembled a cupboard under the stairs and eating the same kind of food day in and day out.

However, her quality of life was exponentially better than it was in Europe. The quality of health care and housing for one were particularly surprising. 

Furthermore, another misconception she spoke of is that we perceive China as ‘copy cats’. However, the way the Chinese see it is that they just foster competition. They do have patents for certain technologies, while there are others that they don’t consider protecting.

To Wrap Things Up…

My trip to China was short but sweet. 

I learned so much about how different cultures work and broke some of my own preconceptions about China along the way. I want to thank them for the invite and express my gratitude to the other panelists for communicating honestly with one another and being willing to share insight from their own regions. 

Same time next year?

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