New breed of Chinese-Australian entrepreneurs reimagines business

Julie Hare in Australian Financial Review

1 June 2023

5 Mins Read

Walton Chu, who founded three real estate businesses, is one of a new breed of Chinese-Australian entrepreneurs. Louie Douvis

A new breed of educated and youthful Chinese-Australian entrepreneurs are operating highly sophisticated companies that bear no relation to the family-run restaurants, retail shops and import-export businesses of their forebears.


A study examining Chinese-born entrepreneurs working in Australia and Chinese-Australian entrepreneurs working in China found striking similarities between the two groups.


Both are young – average age 41 – highly educated, have spent time in mainstream corporate careers, and pursue businesses in high-tech and e-commerce industries that focus on innovation.


“We think of Chinese entrepreneurs in Australia as maybe running a restaurant in Chinatown or an Australian in China as selling iron ore, but these two groups are really dynamic, very young, tech-savvy and driven by high standards and international expansion,” said Wei Li, from the University of Sydney’s Business School and lead researcher on the report.


The study, based on 175 entrepreneurs in Australia and China, found that half of the new breed of Chinese entrepreneurs in Australia came to study at an Australian university, with 18 per cent arriving via a skilled migration visa and 16 per cent on an investment visa.


Meanwhile, 43 per cent of Australian entrepreneurs in China arrived there while working for a foreign company, but stayed to branch out on their own.


“What surprised me is how dynamic these two groups of entrepreneurs are,” said Dr Li, who wrote the report with input from KPMG and AustCham Shanghai.


“The older generation was driven by survival, but this new generation is driven by high standards and quality, and international expansion is something they always have on their minds.”

About 90 per cent of the entrepreneurs had work experience before entering business and most “migrated to take opportunities that arose from globalisation”, Dr Li said.


Walton Chu, founder of three property-based businesses – TEAMLINK, HOME789 and UFN – arrived in Australia in 2004 to study for a masters degree in international public health at the University of Sydney. He discovered his entrepreneurial streak after he started selling property for commission as a means of getting by.


Mr Chu had trained as a doctor of Western medicine in Nanjing, but found that following his masters degree it would take another four or so years to have his Chinese degree recognised in Australia.


Broke and bored, he attended a seminar on investing in property that triggered a dramatic change in direction. For two years he worked as a real estate salesman, before establishing his own property company HOME789 in 2008.


“I was an international student, so I was broke. And I was sitting at home preparing for all these tests, so I just went out that night and attended the seminar,” Mr Chu said.


In 2015, he founded property development and funds management company UFN and in 2020, real estate AI software company TEAMLINK, which connects developers, marketers, sales staff, clients, lawyers and bankers on one platform. He puts his success down to hard work, persistence and never giving up.


Similar but different


While the two groups have strong similarities, Dr Li said there is very little cross-pollination between them.


“The business ecosystems are quite independent of each other. There’s not much cross-interaction between [them],” Dr Li said.


Architect Alex Chu moved to Shanghai in 2000 as the building boom took off. The Melbourne native, who had been living in Hong Kong, said the opportunities seemed vast.


And they were. Her business, Anken, has worked on about 27 projects over the intervening period including Australia House, a seven-storey redevelopment in downtown Shanghai, that is becoming a home to multiple Australian businesses in the city.


Her upbringing in Melbourne has influenced her approach to Shanghai.


“There are a lot of parallels between Melbourne and Shanghai – the whole urban regeneration thing that kicked off in Melbourne in the 1990s has informed a lot of what we do here. There’s an appreciation for old industrial buildings, for example,” Ms Chu said.


“This post was originally published on” 




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