Shanghai Entrepreneurs: Matilda Ho

By Alyssa Wieting, January 9, 2017

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Shanghai is a city of entrepreneurship. In our series, 'Shanghai Entrepreneurs,' we talk to people from different backgrounds and businesses about their motivations, experiences and what they have learned along the way.  

Matilda Ho is a serial entrepreneur and investor driven to create more sustainable food systems. She is the founder and managing director of Bits x Bites, China’s first food-centric accelerator and venture capital fund that invests in startups tackling global food system challenges. In addition, Ho has founded Yimishiji, one of China’s first online farmers markets to bring organic and local produce to families. Today, Yimishiji stands alone as a farm-to-table e-commerce platform that engineers food education and transparency into the entire supply chain and customer experience, effectively reshaping the relationship between Chinese consumers and farmers. 

Elevator pitch: tell us what you do in less than 50 words.
Bits x Bites is an accelerator and venture capital that supports food tech startups in shaping our food future. To solve systematic problems from food security to waste, China’s startups can play an important role. Over our 120-day program, we give them the capital, community and coaching to thrive. 

Why did you choose Shanghai?
Shanghai is undeniably China’s trendsetting hub. Consumers here are generally more willing to pay for premium and new experiences. From an entrepreneurial perspective, Shanghai also has a more developed food scene but it does lag behind Beijing in terms of tech. Bits x Bites is creating an opportunity for the food and tech worlds to collide, and we’re happy that it’s happening here in Shanghai. 

What was your motivation and inspiration for starting your business?
There are more than 4,000 startups opening shop in China every day. If we can harness some of this entrepreneurial energy to solve food system challenges, the impact can be astonishing. With our experience building the online farmers' market Yimishiji, we hope to help more startups accelerate their growth and build a sustainable business. 

What are the biggest challenges in setting up a business here?
We have seen first-hand how quickly competition can appear. Competitors also work extremely hard to beat you at your game. Recruiting great talent and building the right teams are also two challenges for many businesses. These are all support areas that startups need as they build a new business. 

“There are more than 4,000 startups opening shop in China every day. If we can harness some of this entrepreneurial energy to solve food system challenges, the impact can be astonishing”

What is the greatest lesson you have learned doing business in China?
Stay nimble. There is no safe competitive advantage, especially in the Internet world. The shift from Weibo to WeChat is a great example. Businesses that are quick to identify environmental changes and are flexible to adapt are best positioned to lead. That is why we have built our mentor network with many founders who can share a lot of onthe-ground stories, including successes and failures.

And the greatest mistake?
We have made mistakes; but also grown from them. One of them is probably having a mismatched senior executive. Hiring the wrong people is a fast track to learn how to hire the right ones.

Who is your personal business idol?
Charles Hayes, IDEO Partner and Executive Managing Director for Asia. Besides his intelligence, I am constantly amazed by his ability to inspire a very open and creative culture throughout an organization. I am also impressed by how at ease he is with any connection, whether it’s in the World Economic Forum or at a dive bar with coworkers. 

What trends are shaping the way business is done here?
The evolving upper and middle class consumers means companies in China need to excel in more than just speed and distribution but also creating quality products and meaningful content. I also see an increasing awareness of social responsibility. People value brands that actively address their environmental impact.
Where do you see your companies in five years?
With Yimishiji, we see a growing ecosystem of local and pesticide-free food, with consumers demanding these products at one end and honest farmers practicing responsible farming on the supply side. 

With Bits x Bites, we see a thriving and supportive community of food tech startups that are bringing creative solutions to solve a variety of food system challenges. And we hope that their success stories will inspire a wave of socially conscious entrepreneurs that combine purpose and profit to bring a positive impact to the world.

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