Cha Li Zhou (SK 2015): “From SKEMA to an entrepreneurial career”

23 June 2020

After living six years in France, Cha Li decided to pursue his career in China, his country of origin. Bolstered by his experience at SKEMA where he majored in entrepreneurship, he set up his consulting firm in Suzhou, to the west of Shanghai. Now, several years after graduating from SKEMA, he is still actively involved with the school and thus contributes to shaping the leaders of the future.


Can you tell us a few words about your educational background and your professional experience?

After studying architecture in Shanghai, I went to live in France in 2010. I studied for three years at the University of Montpellier first, and was then drawn to the offering of the business schools that represent the excellence of high-level education in France.

I chose SKEMA’s Grande Ecole programme, which I joined in 2014 on the Sophia Antipolis campus. In my final year I decided to specialise in entrepreneurship and innovation. After six years in France, I made up my mind to return to China to start my company in Suzhou. Philippe Chereau, who at the time was the director of the entrepreneurship and innovation specialisation at SKEMA, really encouraged me down that path. According to him, China needed people who could be a bridge between Europe and Asia.

After training in entrepreneurship and innovation there are basically two main paths you can take: you can start a business or you can become a consultant to other business owners. I decided to connect these two paths by starting my own consulting firm: Crescenders Information Technology. We assist foreign companies looking to establish themselves in China in all the stages of their setup (finding premises, dealing with the red tape, communicating with the Chinese government, etc.). We also give strategic advice to company heads by conducting local market research, identifying business partners in the target market, etc.

I chose to set up in Suzhou because it is a developed city that offers a lot of advantages and has a great need for talent. It also has an interesting geographical position, because it is in the economic and strategic centre of the Huaihai Economic Zone. It therefore plays an essential role in the development of many other cities. Moreover, in China, and particularly in Suzhou, the government is really encouraging entrepreneurship, innovation and access to international resources.


Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I had always wanted to start my own business: my parents are entrepreneurs, so it is something I have always had in mind. After a few years of training at SKEMA, I gained enough confidence and felt that I had the maturity I needed to take the leap.


What marked you the most during your training at SKEMA?

The highest points of my experience at SKEMA were especially during the second year of my master’s. There were about thirty students in the class, and everyone was very supportive and got on really well; it was like a big family.

Our professors, and the director of the entrepreneurship and innovation specialisation, Philippe Chereau, also helped us a lot. He gave us some wonderful opportunities and allowed us to attend many events relating to entrepreneurship. For example, we participated in the student entrepreneurship competition “Challenge Jeunes Pousses”, during which we came up with a business idea as a group and then pitched it to investors.

I also liked the fact that the school offers a lot of activities. At the time, I was on the SKEMA swim team. I had actually participated several times in the ESC swimming competition, in which all the teams of the leading business schools in France compete.


In what ways are you currently involved with SKEMA?

In 2016, when I decided to return to China, SKEMA gave me the opportunity to work as a startup coach on the Suzhou campus, as part of the entrepreneurship and innovation programme. For the last year, I have also been participating in SKEMA Ventures, an initiative aimed at supporting SKEMA students who are looking to launch an entrepreneurial venture. I provide them with tools to help them position their business in the market, find their target, develop a business model, etc. In parallel, I also work to help high school students from Suzhou go off to study for their bachelor’s degree at SKEMA.


Why was it important for you to maintain ties with SKEMA?

I think that when you study abroad, there is a tendency to put that international experience behind you and to “forget” it rather quickly once you are back in your country of origin. The really strong ties I have maintained with SKEMA have enabled me to really differentiate myself here in Suzhou. My success has really been built thanks to SKEMA’s support.


What advice do you have for young SKEMA graduates?

The first piece of advice I would give young graduates wanting to start their own business is to clearly identify their strengths. You see, many students start their business based on their desires but do not think it through logically. But to start a business, you have to be objective.

I also advise maintaining ties with SKEMA, because a network is very important in the business world. With its campuses all around the world, SKEMA can be there for young graduates wherever they go. Joining the alumni network gives you a real advantage.


Contact: Cha Li Zhou (SK 2015), founder and CEO of CRESCENDERS Information Technology

Interview by for SKEMA Alumni