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China's tech elite crack Forbes' Rich List

Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba founders in with the big boys

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China’s growing army of tech entrepreneurs have consolidated their position at the apex of the country’s elite, according to the latest Forbes rankings, although most still have some way to go before challenging the likes of Gates and Ellison.

Forbes Asia officially released its China Rich List on Monday, and although the Top 100 is dominated by those who have made their fortune from real estate, the growing influence of the web on Chinese society is clear to see.

At number two on the list is Robin Li, founder of Google nemesis Baidu, with a net worth of $8.1bn which has actually dropped since the last report thanks to his firm’s falling stock price. Forbes said it calculated “public fortunes” based on stock prices and exchange rates as of 21 September.

Elsewhere, Pony Ma, co-founder of web giant Tencent, jumped from 13th to 4th place in just a year with a fortune of $6.4bn. Tencent’s other co-founder, Zhang Zhidong, was down in 26th with a none-too-shabby fortune of $2.45bn.

The Shenzhen-based firm has found success with its hugely popular QQ instant messaging service and web portal, as well as running a weibo microblogging platform and many other services.

Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, which has now expanded into online payments and cloud computing, jumped to 11th with $3.4bn. The firm recently agreed to buy back a 40 per cent stake owned by Yahoo and is currently trying to make headway in the mobile OS space with its Aliyun offering.

China’s burgeoning online gaming sector was also represented in the form of William Ding, the 41-year-old founder of Nasdaq-listed Netease, which has accrued him almost $3bn.

As impressive as this list of tech entrepreneurs is, however, there is still a pretty large gap between these Chinese upstarts and old-timers like Bill Gates ($61bn), Larry Ellison ($36bn) and Google’s Brin and Page ($18.7bn each). Also way out in front are Amazon’s Jeff Bezos ($18.4bn), Mark Zuckerberg ($17.5bn), Michael Dell ($15.9bn) and even Steve Ballmer ($15.5bn), according to Forbes.

The likes of Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu are of course still fairly young in the grand scheme of things. However, despite the huge growth potential in their domestic market, there may be question marks over their ability to ultimately expand successfully abroad.

Question marks also exist over where the next generation of web innovation is coming from in China – something which commentators have said is hampered by strict government censorship controls over user generated content.

US lender Silicon Valley Bank certainly sees potential, though, having inked a joint venture deal with Shanghai Pudong Development Bank (SPDB) designed to provide loans to budding tech entrepreneurs in the PRC. ®

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