A wave of entrepreneurship has been sweeping across Taiwan in recent years. Start-up teams and talents often choose to cluster in cities for the bigger market size and stronger business network. Yet, there is one person who chose a different path, turning back on plentiful resources in the cities and starting his business in Zhushan Township, a small town located in Nantou, over an hour drive from the closest city, Taichung. A group of like- minded friends renovated an abandoned house and turned it into a boutique bed and breakfast (B&B). And soon after, Townway Cultural and Creative Corporation was established, with the aim to discover sustainable business models in the cultural and creative industry. This initiative has brought 100,000 visitors annually to Zhushan, which had almost none before.
“This is a change ‘from zero to a hundred thousand!’ ” Ho Pei-jun says, smiling. He further explains that as the owner of the social enterprise, Townway Cultural and Creative Corporation, and the B&B, El Patio Del Cielo, he has been experimenting with innovative solutions locally, trying to bring back the young people that choose to leave the town as well as elevate the local economy and help shape a new image of Zhushan.
Wild grass, deserted field. An encounter with the old mansion leads to the birth of El Patio Del Cielo
The idea of setting up a business in Zhushan is dated back in Ho’s second year at university. It was his first encounter with this tranquil little town and the three-section residential compound, known as san-he-yuan, a type of traditional architecture. When he saw hundreds of hectares of abandoned buildings, he thought, “Our society has improved as a whole, but these beautiful buildings are left to decay.” He then made a decision that he would come back after graduation and find a new life for these beautiful old houses.
When Ho graduated from Chang Jung University, Department of Health Care Management, he didn’t pursue a career in the healthcare industry. Instead, he took out a big loan, using the money to renovate an old house and turn it into a boutique B&B, named El Patio Del Cielo. He revitalized the old house and breathed new life into it. More importantly, the B&B has become a hotspot to showcase a preserved local culture and attract new ideas from outsiders as well as empower more social enterprises to build business models leveraging physical spaces as the key resource.
Ho has established a legendary local start-up story, transforming Zhushan from a town with almost no tourists at all to a popular destination that travel-shows and bloggers recommend repeatedly. Many people living in the cities also come here for a getaway vacation or a working holiday, in which they work for the B&B in exchange for free accommodation. Even international attention was brought here. Matthew Lien, a world-renowned musician, was deeply moved by Ho’s story behind the start-up when visiting Zhushan. He got so inspired by his stay in El Patio Del Celio that he collaborated with a record company in producing an album using the name of the B&B, “Sky Yard”, which was nominated in the Golden Melody Awards, the most prestigious award in the music industry in Taiwan. Thanks to this, the popularity of the B&B has been significantly raised, drawing a large crowd of curious visitors in turn.
Revive local industries and create a sharing economy in this mountain town
During the process of setting up his B&B, Ho realized that local resources were actually adequate and the local industry portfolio was well- diversified with a great variety. He embraced the approach of local production-local consumption and integrated this philosophy into managing his B&B. Speaking from years of experience in Zhushan, Ho shares that it was quite easy to secure resources and establish local network among different industries. “In such a small town, locals will eventually recognize your effort as long as you keep up the passion and sincerity!” Ho says.
In 2011, Ho further founded Townway Cultural and Creative Corporation, attempting to implement more innovative ideas and social experiments in Zhushan. Incorporating the concepts of “co- design,” “local production” and “co-selling” into its business model, Townway Cultural and Creative Corporation has actively connected external professional resources with local industries. By doing so, the start-up has helped revive the local economy and increase the chances of other innovative social solutions to be shaped, promoted, and commercialized.
Ho believes that involving local industries and local production complements his cultural ideals, in turn generating higher profits for his business. He uses a lot of local products in the B&B, such as tables and soaps. In case guests see anything they like while staying at the B&B, they are able to find the products in local shops.
Nevertheless, throughout his experience in managing the B&B, Ho also realizes the crisis that Zhushan is facing, “industries are here, but young people are not,” resulted from the growing aging population and rural-to-urban migration among young people. To solve this problem, he believes that the B&B has to be built as an open platform, where young people could contribute their knowledge, especially those who are innovative and love traveling and working in exchange of free-stay at the B&B. Thus, he encourages all young people visiting here to explore ways to bring positive changes to the community, using their talents and skills. Among all those services that Townway Cultural and Creative Corporation provides, many are based on the ideas brainstormed by guests who stayed and worked, such as the bamboo-QR code and local entrepreneurship courses.
Choosing a right path is more important than having the passion
Looking back at his ten-year-journey as an entrepreneur, Ho says, “Dedication is more important than passion. Don’t wait until you have feelings to start doing things. Instead, continue doing things until you find the feelings.” He thinks that it is particularly important to find the opportunity and initiate the action while staying true to your brand and values along the way.
In Ho’s point of view, to implement the greatest marketing strategy, a company needs to be able to “communicate the very same message for 10 years consistently.” In comparison with big cities, where one can easily be disoriented, Ho believes that starting his business in a small town has helped him focus on reaching the goals and harness his talents and skills.
Over the next ten years, Ho expects to have every single item used in the B&B sourced from the local production only. As for Townway Cultural and Creative Corporation, he aims to replicate and promote its business models, such as local entrepreneurship and crowd-funding, in other towns across Taiwan. By establishing a shared value, all participants are empowered to dedicatedly work towards the common vision: discover and connect stories from every corner of Taiwan and bring in more resources. Ho concludes that this was exactly his original aspiration of setting up Townway Cultural and Creative Corporation.