A vocational school in China offers a "Taobao Class" which trains students to become online business owners by setting shop on the consumer e-commerce site, Taobao Marketplace. In fact, it says one of the graduates currently has an annual turnover of 10 million yuan (US$1.6 million).
According to a Sina Tech report Tuesday, first batch of "Taobao Class" students in June graduated from the Yiwu Industrial and Commercial College, located in the Zhejiang province.
Among the graduates was Shi Haoji, 22, who is currently the chairman of Rui Qing Technologies. Shi sells 3D glasses on Taobao and has offices in Wenzhou and Taizhou, employing 12 formal employees. The company owns five patents and has an annual turnover of 10 million yuan (US$1.6 million).
Another graduate, Dong Sisi, 21, is the chairman of Yiwu Julang Electronic Company. She owns an online shop on Taobao Marketplace and employs eight employees. Dong's company reportedly generates a monthly turnover of 500,000 yuan (US$79,385).
The three-year course guides students from the first step of registering a store in Taobao, to designing the online storefront. Students also learn how to source stock and identify purchasing trends.
Students go for an average of 20 lessons in a week, including six hands-on lessons. However, students should not solely rely on lessons, said Zhu Huabin, head of entrepreneurship department at Yiwu Industrial and Commercial College.
He said he avoids setting too many written examinations. For instance, in a class on copywriting, students are tested on how to write a short product description. For a film and photography class, they are tested on how they capture photos of products.
Zhu said China does not have suitable teachers to teach entrepreneurship in higher education as many of the teachers lack experience in starting a business. Thus, he believes both teachers and students should explore and learn together.
Besides gaining credits from lessons, students are allowed to substitute credits using the performance of their online business. Based on the trustworthiness and business performance of their business, students can receive up to 12 credits which replace 6 courses.
Students also can replace credits by participating in a senior's lecture or sharing their entrepreneurial experience. Students who team up with others who are not doing well in their business, and help turn the business around, can gain credits as well.
Turning a village into "Taobao Town"
Jia Yonghua, executive vice president of Yiwu Industrial and Commercial College's business college, and who created the "Taobao Class", said he wanted to turn the town of Qingyanliu near the school into "Taobao Town".
At the beginning of the course, in 2009, many building owners rented out empty rooms to students and graduates for extra income. Soon, businesses such as supermarkets, restaurants, and other stalls flourished as residents in the town saw students doing well and started to experiment and replicate the success in their brick-and-mortar business.
The town's e-commerce infrastructure was upgraded as well. Every house now has fiber-to-the-home and broadband connection. Around 20 courier companies also set up their business in the town to cater to the Internet sellers.
According to Jia, China's e-commerce is still at the developing stage.
The Chinese government's e-commerce 12th five-year plan hopes to drive online retail transactions to 3 trillion yuan (US$476 billion) to represent more than 9 percent of total retail sales in the country.
Jia said China's online retail currently represents 4.5 percent to 4.6 percent of total retail sales. However, in developed countries, the figure has surpassed 20 percent so there is still room for growth, he added.
Even if the share of China's online sales falls behind developed countries, the Asian giant is expected to become the largest online retail market in the world by 2015 or shortly after.