While representing a Dutch industrial design company in Taiwan during the late 1990s, Case Engelen noticed there was an insurmountable communication gap between designers in the West and manufacturers in Taiwan.
"I realized that it would be useful to have the designers in Taiwan, so they could work more closely with the manufacturers," Engelen said. "That's what gave me the idea to start a company."
So five years ago, he took the leap and set up Titoma (提託馬), hiring designers from France, Germany, the UK and the US to work with local manufacturers on projects developed in the West.
Now Engelen's company employs 10 people, with offices in the UK, Germany, the US and China, and had sales of US$1 million last year, a figure he expects to rise to around US$3 million this year.
Engelen is one of numerous foreigners who are taking advantage of Taiwan's entrepreneurial society and liberal, albeit slightly bureaucratic, regulations for companies.
Small and medium-sized enterprises make up 97 percent of all companies in Taiwan, but working out exactly how many of these are owned by foreigners is difficult, as the Ministry of Economic Affairs doesn't distinguish between companies that are owned by foreigners locally and those set up as subsidiaries of foreign multinationals.
Ann Hu (胡安嘉), a certified public accountant with Universal Law CPA Group (宇律會計師事務所), helps between 30 and 50 foreigners set up companies here every year. She said the process is quite simple, especially if you have an accountant or lawyer deal with the procedure for you.
"The government's attitude is quite welcoming," she said. "They will usually approve an application."
She said that in her experience, the most common type of company that foreigners set up was a trading company, but that the government was even more open to those who wanted to set up any kind of high-tech enterprise.
When Engelen set up his company nearly five years ago, he was lucky enough to have gone through the process with his former company, WeLL Design. He decided that, because he wanted to hire a lot of foreigners, it would be easier to persuade the government of his need to hire people from overseas if the parent company was foreign.
So he first set up a holding company in Hong Kong, and then set up its branch company here. He said the process was relatively simple, and required only time and a lot of documentation -- as well as NT$2.5 million. Even so, he said it was a struggle at first to get Alien Resident Certificates (ARC) for his foreign employees. He had to prove to the government he couldn't find Taiwanese employees suitable for the job, and that the foreigners he wanted to hire had years of experience.
One way around the problem was to use AIESEC, an international student organization that runs an exchange program to allow around 3,500 students a year to live and work in another country. Engelen said he employed a German student for a year through the program for one of his projects.
Most companies can apply for an ARC for the general manager, but if the company plans to hire other foreigners, the minimum investment requirement is usually NT$5 million.
Michael Lee (李家祥), a partner in the Pamir Law Group (帕米爾顧問), said that while there was no set limits on the hiring of foreigners, in practice the government would take into consideration a number of factors when deciding how many foreigners a company can hire.