Jan Šmejkal comes from Chlum near Český Krumlov. He finished his bachelor's degree at the IES in 2013. Currently he is the Community Director at Startup Grind and is responsible for growing the company's presence in China, Asia-Pacific and beyond.
Honza also just started a new „weekend“ project, The Dinner, and brings together world-class entrepreneurs from all around the world to learn more about Chinese and international business environments.
In 2013, he co-founded PRG Trading Group, which had offices in Prague and Shenzhen (China). He was also a member of the founding team at Foodpanda (Rocket Internet) in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In his spare time, Honza likes to travel, exercise and study Mandarin Chinese.
When studying at the IES, what was the most important for your further career abroad? Do you remember any key subject that influenced you?
I guess it was the Mathematics classes with Prof. Kalenda. :-) I have to say I struggled a lot but the experience taught me hard work, grit and that everything is possible if you set your mind to it and have the right people around you.
Moreover, thanks to the IES I ended up in China at the first place. I still very clearly remember the moment when I was “cold-emailing” many different universities in China to accept me as an exchange student… Peking University HSBC Business School (PHBS) said yes in case we get all the documentation signed quickly. So, eventually it happened mainly because of the amazing support I got from our faculty.
When did you decide to stay in China for a longer time, not just for a study stay?
At first, I went for the one-year exchange program. My academic results during that period were pretty good and so the university (PHBS) offered me a full scholarship should I decide to stay and finish my Master's here in Shenzhen. It all made sense as, at the time, our Prague-based company that I built together with my friend Jan Havlicek was growing, and so my presence in China came in handy.
You serve as a community director of a Start-up Grind. What exactly does that mean?
Startup Grind is the world’s largest entrepreneur community helping, connecting and educating founders in around 350 cites and 110 countries. I head our community in China and the rest of APAC (Asia-Pacific) region. That’s around 80 cities at the moment.
Since I’m the only full-time employee of Startup Grind in China and APAC, I’m basically responsible for everything from growing our presence in the region, business development, marketing, etc. It’s a lot of work but I learn a lot. I have pretty high autonomy in what I do as long as it helps us accomplish our goals and KPIs.
I love it because I can travel, meet amazing people and be part of something much bigger than myself.
P.S. I’m always looking for interns. :-)
Could you describe your last project in detail? What is exactly behind the idea?
It’s called “The Dinner” and it’s my latest “weekend” project. For expats in China it’s still relatively hard to meet successful Chinese entrepreneurs given the communication and cul-tural barriers. We decided to bridge this gap by hosting small and more intimate business din-ners once a month in Shenzhen (and potentially other cities as well).
We curate Chinese entrepreneurs who want to go global = they want to network with expat founders or international entrepreneurs visiting China. At the same time we give local expat (foreign) founders similar opportunity = they can meet very interesting Chinese entrepreneurs who could potentially help them with their business endeavors in China.
It didn’t start as a business. It’s just something I’ve been wanting to do ever since I first came to China.
I’m very open minded person and have literally no problem to adapt to a different culture. In general, if you’re humble and deploy a lot of empathy and patience you’ll learn a lot and have fun along the way.
Of course, there are times when it’s “too much”. You can have a bad day and even though you try to speak Mandarin, people don’t understand you. You feel completely lost… Then it’s the time to have some good western meal and spend some time alone or with your closest friends. :-)
Generally, I spend 50 % of my time with locals and 50 % with foreigners - it’s given by the nature of what I do.
What do you do in your spare time? Do you have any with all your professional activities?
I travel. Traveling is a big passion of mine. I try to go back to the Czech Republic at least twice a year. I love Prague!
Apart from that, I exercise and study Mandarin Chinese (which is something that I still struggle with a little bit).