Published in UT San Diego, November 24, 2014
On several occasions, we have talked about doing business in China. Well, the tables have turned and last week, China came to San Diego to do business.
“Make It In America,” a three-day conference in Escondido, attracted Asian innovators and investors who are seeking opportunities in real estate, biotech and high tech in San Diego and other parts of Southern California.
We strutted our region’s stuff from drones to biotech and discussed how government programs in both the U.S. and Mexico can provide assistance. Rosalynn Carmen, president of the Asian Heritage Society and co-organizer of the conference with Len Novarro, owner of Asia Media America, was motivated to establish the conference in order to “combine the diligence and tenacity of Asia and the freedom and creativity of America.” The result, she believes, is a win-win for both.
We definitely live in a global interconnected world, and while our companies need to figure out how to access global markets and money, it is also true that global markets are seeking us. And San Diego is on the map. Finding capital for our local companies to grow has been a long-term issue for San Diego, and conferences like Make It In America are significant because they make our region’s strengths visible.
There is one significant common business principle that overrides all others: Effective business is often done over a meal.
I sat with a most interesting group including Yu Shunbiao, executive chairman of the World Chinese Entrepreneur Association; Chang Zhang, an investor from Shanghai; Julia Cheng, a San Diegan who is vice president of the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce of North America; and Cicely Meng, a San Diegan who is president of the San Diego-Taichung Sister Cities Association and specializes in facilitating cross-cultural business.
Through a translator, Shunbiao told me that Chinese investors are particularly interested in buying real estate (office buildings, apartment complexes, shopping centers and single-family homes) and undervalued public companies that can be taken private and turned around.
Cheng, who grew up in Shanghai, came to the United States in 1980 to study at UC San Diego. To support herself, she worked odd jobs and eventually earned a master’s degree in business administration from San Diego State University. In China, Cheng was separated from her parents, who became victims of the country’s political movement against what were seen as intellectuals. “The first thing in your life, you have to be sure you survive,” she said in an interview with the Asian Heritage Society, which recognized her with an award in 2013. “The second stage of your life you can dream and achieve your goal.” Cheng played an active role in recruiting participants from both China and Taiwan for this conference.
She said the region is attractive to them because of our beautiful weather, clean air, vibrant and growing Asian community, location near Mexico and the concentration of successful biotech and high-tech companies, including Qualcomm, that have hired engineers and scientists from both Taiwan and China. A lot of investment dollars from those countries have already gone to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, she said, and “San Diego can now be a golden opportunity because valuations are lower than in Silicon Valley.”
At the conference, I talked about why San Diego is a great place for startups. I highlighted our already vibrant ecosystem in which success begets more success, our knowledgeable service providers, our amazing talent pool that comes from all over the world, our universities and research institutes, our growing angel investor networks, and our culture of entrepreneurship, which understands that failure is often part of the road to success.
Most importantly, I said, when our entrepreneurs have a successful exit, they stay involved. They start another company, become an angel investor and/or engage in philanthropy. This is truly the “Spirit of San Diego.”