I visited Kai-fu Lee’s Innovation Works while I was in Beijing last week to see how things are going. When I last visited the ex-Google China CEO’s incubator, it was little more than empty, expensive office space. (Next to Google…prime poaching?)
Now, the offices are teeming with more than 100 people, most of whom are clustered in a nine very early-stage startups. Most of them are targeting mobile, but everything else Lee told me was off the record. (Sorry.) Suffice to say, the incubator is bursting at the seams and Lee doesn’t seem content. Expect more news soon.
Lee is well known in China—see if you can spot his book on sale above in a train station of a second tier city. But there’s some healthy skepticism about how Innovation Works will do. There’s the critique that Lee knows multinationals more than he knows startups, and the critique that he gets too much press in the West. (Yes, I know I’m adding to that here.) There’s also the critique that with so much money and entrepreneurship in China now–especially in Beijing–there’s not a huge need for an incubator.
I shot a quick video with Lee and asked him some of those questions. There’s a cool small-world moment at the end (which is hard to hear over my spazzy laughter) when I randomly meet one of Lee’s crew who says he met his partner at the Beijing TechCrunch meet up we did about a year ago. We’ll just take our stock whenever it’s convenient.