Betty Wong, CEO of IntroAmerica, spoke at a panel discussion titled “Chinese Entrepreneurs in America” on March 27. The discussion was part of Columbia University’s 8th annual “China Business Conference,” a program aiming at explaining the impact of China’s rising power on U.S. businesses to students, alums and businesspeople from the NY-NJ-CT area.
Having experience working with people from China and the U.S., the four panelists shed light on the differences in doing business in the two countries, and discussed differences in the education, legal and financial systems.
The four panelists were: Betty Wong – CEO and founder of IntroAmerica, an education start-up aiming at helping international students live a better life in the U.S.; Guanghui Hu- president and co-founder of Admera Health; Edith Yeung- a Silicon Valley investor who founded 500 Mobile Startups and Right Ventures, and John Gordon – president of USA Corporate Services Inc., a company that helps international entrepreneurs create US-based companies. The panel was moderated by John Cooper- founder and CEO of Brightwire, an innovative news and technology company serving the financial industry that has editorial teams throughout Europe and Asia.
“You can start a company in one day in the US instead of having to wait for Chinese government approval of your company. The US government does not have to approve what you do,” Wong said at the panel discussion. “We are not required to show specific amounts of money for start-up capital and we don’t have to pre-rent an office.”
From her interactions with students as a manager, instructor at Baruch College (CUNY) and visiting classroom speaker at Columbia, Wong observed that Chinese education limits emphasis on individuality due to class sizes and that culturally, Chinese students tend not to communicate.
“There isn’t a lot of encouragement for students to speak up or take risks and frankly, there’s not enough time in China but participation is required in the US,” she said.
The observation was affirmed by other panelists who had dealt with both cultures. Hu, who earned his PhD from Baylor College of Medicine after getting his master’s from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, stressed that the Chinese and the Americans have very different mindset, which could give rise to misunderstandings when the two parties do business with each other. The different mindset, according to him, might bring even more difficulties for them to work together than potential language barriers would. Hu suggested learning more about business customs, which he said was “more transparent than ‘guanxi’ in China. You have a better chance in America of getting things done.”
Hu also pointed out that the U.S. education values problem-solving skills and the understanding of the legal system, which he said “is critically important if you want to do business in the U.S.”
The panelists were also enthusiastic talking about cultural differences.
Coming to the U.S. from Hong Kong at age 16, Yeung said that Americans are more forgiving and pronunciation is less important in the U.S. than in China. She added that pronunciation is crucial in China because “if you speak with the wrong tone, you end up insulting someone.”
She said that she forced herself to speak English as much as possible when she first came to the U.S., and she learned some of her English from watching TV.
She also thanked the U.S. culture for letting her be independent.
“When I came to the U.S., I realized that I really was on your own. I didn’t HAVE To show up in class or anywhere. I’ve got complete independence setting my own schedule and taking my responsibility. This is very different from what is encouraged in China.”
There is difference in the two countries’ legal systems too, Gordon noted. “The laws for working in America are also more transparent than in China,” he said.
Gordon also commented that Chinese companies didn’t always invest in marketing, opting for the most inexpensive way to get something done. “It sometimes hurts the Chinese entrepreneurs to think this way because price is not the only focus of American business.”
“I think both parties have to do some assimilation or adapt in order to be successful, find local partners, get a good team, do research and find out what works and what doesn’t from others,” Wong concluded. “They can also come to IntroAmerica where we have insight on American culture, stories about Chinese and other entrepreneurs as well as information about jobs and internships at startups.”
The panel discussion was followed by a third keynote by Peter Cuneo, former CEO of Marvel Entertainment, who spoke about understanding cultural difference, and a networking reception held at the Alfred Lerner Hall.
This year’s program also featured two earlier keynote speeches by Joseph Zeng, partner at Greenwoods Asset Management and Richard Howard, senior VP at Daimler Trucks North America. Two other panel discussions on “cross-border investment” and “Chinese real estate investment” focused on the great opportunities to invest in Chinese businesses for the US private equity industry and the rise of EB-5 investments.
“Many of these EB-5 investments are driven by families interested in securing residency for Chinese students,” according to Dan Weil of Salmon Run Capital.
The conference was hosted by the Greater China Society, one of the largest student clubs at Columbia Business School, dedicated to fostering a professional community for students interested in working in the Greater China region.