From Newcastle to China and back ... Navada Group look back on a networking success

Now back in Newcastle, Navada Group's Matthew Scott and Jeremy Forsberg reflect on a fantastic networking trip to China

Navada Group take to the stage at the CIFTIS event
Navada Group take to the stage at the CIFTIS event

It will be a challenge to fully convey the intensity and experience we’ve had, as in addition to the professional aspect, there has been a lot of emotion involved.

We spent the last few days as tourists in Beijing and we won’t fully recount our exploits as there are plenty of travel writers who can give a much more poetic description.

We did the typical things - the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Houhai and ate four pretty delicious fares.

An amazing spectacle was the Jingshan Park behind the Forbidden City. Our new CBBC karaoke partner Cheryl suggested we view the Forbidden City from here to really appreciate the full scale and scope from elevation.

What was pretty spectacular is the panoramic view of Beijing.

It’s here you begin to fully grasp the scale of Beijing. Just visiting China, rooted in thousands of years of history and culture is an adventure. But our adventure was wider.

Business is an adventure. Any businessmen or entrepreneur knows. From the highs and lows, frustrations and successes.

For Navada, China was a new big adventure. Trips to China are made all the time.

We’ve met many British businessmen and expats, for whom China-UK travel and living is a way of life. Many for whom China is a way of life. However, this was the first, we hope, of many and we went with a lack of expectation – in a good way.

Matt and Jeremy arrive at Qingdao airport
Matt and Jeremy arrive at Qingdao airport

We really didn’t know what to expect. That was exciting. It kept us open to new opportunity. We had objectives, we knew what we wanted to gain from this, but the scale of size and ambition in China is difficult to comprehend for novices, so we went with an open mind.

You can definitely feel something is happening in China. There is a sense of movement at a much greater pace than in the West.

It goes deeper than the recession - it is a country that wants to both recreate all that is good about the West while bringing a distinct Chinese offering to the world. Many of the tech superstars have Western education with a professional foundation in some of the biggest global tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Apple. But they’re also fostering new talent from within. It’s an interesting mix.

With China on course to take over the US as the world’s largest economy, it’s running a marathon at a sprinter pace and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Household mean incomes are set to quadruple in the next 20 years, there is a rising middle class and it’s very quickly trying to shake off its pure manufacturing image with a move to creative technology and white collar society. And yes, there is money and opportunity, but from our very limited experience, from talking with ex-pats with a long history there and the Chinese themselves – it is not a cash grab. It requires good relationships, commitment, patience and most importantly respect. If you do not respect China, its people and its sense of business, stay home.

They are savvy and they are ambitious. They are keen to work with Western partners, but they also want to be in control of their own destiny. This is what we’ve noticed and what has been communicated by those who have spent a lifetime doing business in China.

Navada were invited as part of a quasi-political and business conference. There was a real seriousness to the event - so obviously Matt and Jeremy were there (cue chuckles). TIF-In is an event of many parts - building a cooperative alliance between the UK and China creative tech industries; trying to build high-level relationships across the creative tech and content industries; showcase and discussion of British talent; then there is the actual business.

We were primarily involved in the latter two.

We went to China sell ourselves (not literally), our ideas, support our colleagues and do business. That is something we are confident we accomplished. We came away with business contacts from China and the UK and came away with some very good friends.

Matt and Jeremy before delivering their talk at CIFTIS
Matt and Jeremy before delivering their talk at CIFTIS

The biggest craze in China is WeChat - built by tech company Tencent - it is a bit like What’sApp, but in our opinion, it’s better. This has almost replaced email and almost every business contact we met has connected with us on WeChat. We’re really interested in the power and potential of WeChat to engage as it’s such a valuable platform in China. Why is it so successful? A really great guy who was helped us with Chinese social media Connan, will be writing a blog on it soon. Connan is a student in New York, whom we first discovered after he wrote a great article on Weibo (China’s Twitter). The best part of WeChat is that it will allow us to remain connected to our friends and business contacts. It’s simple and direct. It’s fun. It simply connects people. It’s allowing us to follow up with business contacts and friends. We’ve learned friendship and a good relationship is a key to building strong business. Friendships take time to nurture. So we’re in this for the long-game.

We came there for business. To connect, to sell and make opportunities in China. However, at a very base level, we were inspired. Inspired by the ambition and ingenuity of the Chinese companies and innovators. Inspired by their hospitality and culture. We were also inspired by our British colleagues and friends.

Emma and Alice from Freeformers are inspiring the future generations of creative tech at the same time as transforming business thinking at the highest level - all the while running a social impact model. Good for business good for society. And really good fun to boot.

Liam Tootill from SBTV is a great guy powered by real inspiration with youth empowerment. Winner of an award at the Global Digital Entrainment Innovator Awards Ceremony.

Paul Goodenough is great enough (sorry for the pun) for any time of the day. A driven innovator and a really nice guy. We spent a lot of time with him - mostly laughing. He’s a happy maker.

Steve from SomthinElse - powerhouse of creative content. They really are the future of content now. Inspiring. Winner of an award at the Global Digital Entrainment Innovator Awards Ceremony.

Appshaker guys just have some really really cool stuff. Another British creative powerhouse.

Nik Powell, aside from being a brilliant creative innovator in Britain - is incredibly entertaining.

Jeremy and Matt with their new best friend, Shu, from the CBBC (China British Business Council)
Jeremy and Matt with their new best friend, Shu, from the CBBC (China British Business Council)

Myndplay are creating technology that reads your mind - literally, to creative immersive video experiences.

Jenny Cooper from NCAM showcased some incredibly innovative content, she was also incredibly lovely to talk with. Winner of an award at the Global Digital Entrainment Innovator Awards Ceremony.

CrowdEmotion - fascinating bunch and looking to transform our emotional connection to content. Stuff of the future. Winner of an award at the Global Digital Entrainment Innovator Awards Ceremony.

Ben Grass from Puregrass is doing some amazing things in production and was brilliant to talk to.

We caught up again with Adam, inventor of the AlphaSphere - a true creative innovator and fun guy.

The beautiful and ethereal Mary-Jess - international star quality, lovely and genuine.

From our Chinese colleagues -

Ava from Future TV was such a great help to us at the conference. Beautiful and smart. Potent combination. She was vital in making great introductions for us and supported us with negotiations .

Gao from FutureTV - who also has a very good friend in Belfast was great and genuinely interested in Navada’s work.

Ben from Rainbow Creative Media, very much involved in the music scene and very very cool.

Now for the officials - this is not an honourable mention - it’s well deserved. Britain should be proud of this team.

Lord Marland was a real champion for British talent throughout the event. At times bullish, but always respectful, he had no reservations about proclaiming british creative, technical and production talent as the best in the world.

Anita from UKTI - we had good fun with her in Beijing but she was a superstar at TIF-In at the highest level. Beautiful, fun and can rock Backstreet Boys on the karaoke. She’s also from Northern Ireland. (I sense a theme building here)

Kathryn and Hari from Innovision who manage the event for UKTI - these girls didn’t stop and were good natured the entire time. Absolute professionalism.

Rubin from ConnectedFish and UKTI specialist. Rubin da man as they say in the states. The epitome of cool at all times even under intense pressure. He’s been a good friend to us and huge support. We’re not sure he ever actually sleeps.

And then there is Gina. If we get a bit hyperbolic here, it still won’t be enough. Matt first met Gina when were invited to speak at Culture Tech. Since then, Gina has been a huge champion of us and been a tremendous support. But, the amazing thing about Gina is she has been a champion for all the innovators and more. She ensured that this was an event for everyone. She is one of the most passionate champions of creative tech in the UK and was genuinely concerned about everyone’s success. She’s pushes the innovators hard. She is honest. But always to ensure they realise their potential. Navada and many of the innovators there owe a lot to Gina - but that’s not why she does it. She believes what what this sector is doing. She believes in the people that are doing it. She is a true champion and our heartfelt thanks goes out to her. We’re a better business and better people because of her.

We didn’t have a great deal to do with the China-British Business Council (CBBC) until we went Beijing - (Day 4) - but we certainly will have everything to do with them in the future. If British business want to go business in China or even are unsure if it’s possible, speak to the CBBC. With a pedigree of over 60 years connecting British business to China - these are the go to guys.

Fenella whom we initially saw in London, but met more personally when we spoke at CIFTIS is in the know. If British company is interested in doing business in China - speak to this woman. Well connected, really knowledgable and really fun. We had a great time with her in Beijing - and hope to have many more conversations in the future.

Cheryl Low - Executive Director with the CBBC - smart, savvy and sophisticated. With a strong Northern Irish connection (educated at school in Northern Ireland - yes there is definitely a theme with the Northern Irish connection, at least Jeremy met a guy from South Shields, but no one from Vegas, just lots of people who have been) - she is a bright woman. She is also brilliant fun and ensured Matt and I had a karaoke experience.

Shu - what can we say about Shu? From arranging for us to speak at CIFTIS, saving us at Qingdao airport, arraigning a trip to us to the Great Wall - and pretty much organising us for the last few days - she has also taught us a lot about China. The UK should feel fortunate to have her working for British Business in the CBBC and China should feel proud of the way she conducted herself. She’s funny, she’s hardworking, she’s bright and a very lovely human being.

We also wanted to thank UKTI for the invitation and a special thanks to InvestNI for their support on the trip. InvestNI are a great support for business and they’ve been invaluable to us.

SugarRush were great collaborators on our new project VADOO. They gave us a new perspective and gave our concept new life.

And to our team. Navada - it’s been a long trip away. It’s been a tremendous amount of additional work and strain. They’ve supported us along the way. Wendy our head of Agency has born the brunt of this and is a class act. (No one out there get any ideas about poaching her) So thank you guys.

There are more people to thank - our wives and kids to start for support our adventure. There are many many more that we’ve met. Many more that we would like to connect with.

The world is not as small as it was. China is a very open place to do business. British businesses should have the chutzpah to think big, go big, go global. British creativity is respected all around the world. It’s valued. No matter what type of business you are - always remain open to the idea of opportunity that exists outside of Britain. We know it won’t be an overnight success. There have been many wise words from some great people about the challenges of engaging with business in China. It’s not overnight - it will take determination - patience - and a lot of good relationships.

We have a few weeks of work to knuckle down with. Our clients have brought us to this point and we owe them thanks and we have to remain vigilant for them.

Navada has only just started on it’s adventure - we are bolshy, we do punch above our weight. We want to grow, we want to innovate, we want to create. We have a lot to offer and yes, we have a lot to learn. We need to develop and grow, but we have valuable ideas.

We were digital champions for TIF-In London and Innovators for TIF-In China. It’s the two sides of who we are. Digital champions and innovators. We’re restless and ambitious. Like any business we’ve had hard lessons, hard won successes and achievements.

We return to the UK even more hungry to be true change champions in a digital world.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer