China questions Canadian cleantech companies should consider


Corne, a 20-year China veteran who leads his firm’s well-respected China cleantech practice, relates that plenty of westerners waste time in early efforts by going through middle management whom they have met through trade shows, business delegations, or responding to correspondence initiated by Chinese firms. These Chinese contacts do not have decision making power and may not have access to that level. Littlewood also recounts that many westerners also spend valuable time in proactive googling, emails and phone calls, which shows initiative and can indeed lead to preliminary meetings, “for start-ups and smaller firms with minimal resources it may be a long while before identifying and reaching genuine potential customers or strategic investors, not to mention the time involved in relationship building.”

Both Corne and Littlewood emphasize the benefits of getting to know and utilizing effective local partners. These mainly being the companies and government officials responsible for the specific types of projects and applications you are looking for. For firms that are new to China, valuable partners might just as importantly be plugged-in advisors and professional service companies and on the ground, who have the domain knowledge and the requisite relationships with the relevant heads of local governments and companies that you need to get to know, collaborate and negotiate with.

Have a presence “on-the-ground”.  To be able to accomplish the first two tasks above, a capable person or a partnership resource is needed in-country. Corne stresses, “ that resource on-the-ground is essential to be able to get a proper feel for how things are working here day-to-day, to identify and leverage opportunities as they arise, and just as importantly, to properly relay that timely information back to HQ to gain or maintain leadership buy-in and decision making feedback.”

“Cleantech firms who do not make that commitment are just too slow for the speed that China moves, and invariably struggle to make much progress,” stresses Corne.

This is the first article in a multi-part series by Kachan & Co. in which we identify a range of opportunities, discuss common risks, and suggest a few tips that Canadian cleantech companies interested in China might well consider. We hope you find these insights useful. This article first appeared on  and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author. 

Jim Mahoney is Managing Director of China at Kachan & Co. and a former Managing Director-China for Cleantech Group. He has lived and worked in China for 18 years advising and managing western SME investments and operations in China. He can be reached at

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