China’s eBusiness revolution is gathering speed.

By Professor Chris Styles  Monday, 17 November 2014  Opinion Pieces

​The scale of it was brought to the world's attention by Alibaba, the phenomenally successful ecommerce company that became the New York Stock Exchange's biggest ever listing, but eBusiness is becoming the routine way of doing business.

Jack Ma, Alibaba's CEO and founder, is China's Bill Gates.  He created an eBusiness from nothing and has shown what is possible.  This is a company with global ambitions.

But beside this big end of eBusiness are the thousands of entrepreneurs creating a huge diversity of technology-driven business models. During a recent visit to a business school in China I was told of a student entrepreneur living on campus who set up a business to serve fellow students through a fast food delivery service.  Local fast food outlets are signing up in droves, and students are making good use of the service.  Customer empathy and insight, an unmet need, a supply chain ready to be coordinated, and a technology enabled model that creates value for all concerned.

At two Business School forums I attended in the Asia-Pacific last month, leading academics and entrepreneurs from across the region turned the spotlight on entrepreneurship and innovation in China.  Technology-driven business models were front and centre.  The level of activity is extraordinary.   It was also clear that Business Schools in the region are increasingly committed to producing students who are ready to start these kinds of businesses, as well as supporting researchers who are focusing on how innovation and entrepreneurship work best.​

By their very nature, eBusiness models are both global and local, as well as highly responsive to market signals.  The flip side is that they create very competitive environments.

And that is the exciting part. The world, Asia in particular, is being transformed by technology-driven business models and companies.  The business opportunities are immense as is the value that can be created by this kind of innovation and competition.

Business schools have a critical role in this revolution. UNSW, for example, has around 250 student start-ups on the books through its commercialisation arm, New South Innovations (NSi) and its student entrepreneurship program.  

A new MBA program with an eBusiness stream we are about to introduce in partnership with one of China's top tier Universities, Fudan University, is aimed at preparing students for the new world of business.

We have also commenced a research program in regional entrepreneurship and innovation - and UNSW will next year be opening the doors of its Michael J Crouch Innovation Centre, that will foster innovation across the University by bringing together students and staff from a range of disciplines.

For Australia, there is a policy imperative here - we need to increase and target this activity in an effort to boost Australia's competitiveness. 

While there are pockets of activity in Australia supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, local innovators and entrepreneurs frequently raise concerns about a lack of support for those who want to turn great innovations into successful businesses.  Excessive regulation adds another barrier.
Australia has always been strong on innovation but lacking in its ability to systematically convert innovation into economic and social value. Look at the number of Australian entrepreneurs who have fled to Silicon Valley.
Part of the answer is to provide the environment in which entrepreneurs are encouraged and rewarded, and not presented with obstacles that stand in the way of investor and consumer markets deciding which innovations create value and which don't.

The Government's recent paper on commercial innovation (Boosting Commercial Returns from Research) raises interesting questions and outlines some positive suggestions for a way forward.  

The Business School welcomes any strategy that aims to bring university research and industry closer together, but we need to be careful not to re-orient research grants away from supporting research excellence. There has to be a place for blue-sky research in areas likely to come up with the next generation of innovations.

Open access to publicly funded research and putting more R and D spending into universities could help to create a better platform for innovation.

Recent research by the Business School's Professor Kevin Fox reveals the government gets more bang for its buck from investing public money in research agencies and universities than from the almost A$2 billion in R&D tax concessions it presently provides to industry.

With China's accelerating eBusiness sector, we need to look into our own backyard to see what we can do to create an environment in which our businesses can compete. The risk is that if we don't then we'll fall behind other countries in the region that will.