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December 18, 2011

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A one-stop shop for European startups

A business park exclusively for European startups helps them get a foothold in the China market, and its French founder says his aim is to make investment simple, rapid, efficient and secure. He talks to Fei Lai.

Many consultants and innumerable authors advise foreign companies on how to do business in China, but few can match the 30 years of China field experience of French entrepreneur Antonio Duarte.

Today Duarte, an entrepreneur in the French auto industry, devotes himself to helping French and other European businesses - especially small- and medium-sized - tackle the complicated China market.

A year ago Duarte and his Shanghainese partner Wang Lin founded DPARK (D for Duarte), an exclusive, multilingual, high-service park for European businesses on Changyang Road in Yangpu District. It's a one-stop shop for startups.

The modern and tasteful five-story "park" in a former textile factory has around 20 European tenants in trade, high tech, consulting, banking, art design, cosmetics and other areas. It can accommodate around 85 businesses.

"The aim is to make investment simple, rapid, efficient and secure," Duarte says.

There are other similar parks assisting foreign businesses in Shanghai; this is the only park in Yangpu District.

The park, next to the China Tobacco Museum, not only provides business (and bedroom) space but also numerous services.

It assists in business registration and obtaining residence cards and visas and provides translation (various European languages) service, full office and secretarial service, car and chauffeur, airport pickup, ticketing, mail and delivery, among others.

It has the latest Internet, WiFi and technology.

The park also facilitates contacts with government departments and Chinese business leaders and organizes educational seminars and conferences.

"Offices are designed and equipped for openness, lighting and vitality," says Duarte who put a lot of his French aesthetic sense into the factory renovation. "This is a place where people can work and relax."

DPARK is a compound that centers on a five-story building with a European-style entrance with large columns. Replicas of terra-cotta warriors stand in the lobby decorated with European-style furnishings. The building has an inviting terrace with an awning. A minimalist restaurant and underground bar are housed in an auxiliary building.

Most of the offices are designed as small, home-style offices that include bedrooms, bathrooms and closets.

The service has been praised by Thibaud Sarrain-Boespflug, president of UFE Shanghai, the association of French citizens in the city.

"The two biggest problems for me are: first, the culture, which is on the top of the difficulties for any Westerner doing business here; and second, the language," Sarrain-Boespflug says.

"For people who come to China with minimal preparation, any facilities certified by Chinese and European governments can make business easier if they assist in addressing the culture and language issues," he says.

In one place, there's everything an entrepreneur needs, such as controller, translator, even maid service, he says, "and it's all in a modern style."

One of the tenants is Cyril Bertschy, vice president for Asia Pacific of Gravotech Marking. The park's team assists him in "unblocking situations."

"Since Duarte comes from industry, his network is really helpful for small and medium enterprises like the one I am managing around Asia," he says. "And, thanks to the park, I was introduced to industry leaders."

DPARK is only a prototype, according to Duarte who says he and his local partner aim to replicate the model in similar parks across China's urban areas. He plans on larger-scale parks in the future.

Through working in the auto industry in France for 30 years, Duarte established a valuable network of relationships that brought him to China.

Impressed by his resourcefulness and the willingness to help, the Yangpu District government named him "an ambassador for economy and investment" in 2009.

In the same year, he was nominated for the Magnolia Award, the top honor conferred by the Shanghai government on foreign residents who have made significant contributions to the city.

At DPARK an office wall is covered with a large collection of photos of Chinese and European political and business heavyweights visiting Europe and China - all accompanied by Duarte.

Yangpu District is full of possibilities, he says, adding that it has the city's largest concentration of universities and research centers.

"When enterprises are based here, they have access to a considerable reservoir of brain power," Duarte says.


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