Teaching ‘Entrepreneurship in China’ To Babson Students In China
I am near the end of a one-month trip to Asia, which included a few conference presentations and presentations at universities, as well as presenting a SEE module for Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UNITAR) in Malaysia. The main part of my trip, however, was spent teaching ‘Entrepreneurship in China’ to Babson students enrolled in the inaugural BRIC program this semester. This was the students’ fourth course in a semester that took them to St. Petersburg, Russia at the end of August, and then to Beijing in early October. I met up with them in Yiwu, where we attended an international commodities fair, before taking the bus to Shanghai. The fair covered multiple floors and endless aisles of jewelry, clothing, toys, sports equipment—you name it. What was striking about this visit was how the students conversed with the exhibitors and seized opportunities to connect with suppliers for products made in China.
In Shanghai, the students were instantly energized by the business environment and became immediately absorbed in the entrepreneurial possibilities here. They listened to engaging lectures from Fudan University professors about the history and economic/political context of Shanghai and China. They toured a factory making large digital photo printers (Doli Photographic Equipment) and visited the Shibei economic zone, where they learned about how this government-run zone attracts and assists businesses. They visited the U.S. Chamber of Commerce office, AmCham Shanghai, and a few days later attended an AmCham lunch, where they mingled with other businesspeople in China, both foreign and Chinese. An array of guest speakers provided a variety of insights around starting businesses in China. Among them was Robert P. Lee, a 35-year, high-profile Silicon Valley entrepreneur with extensive experience running tech companies in the U.S. and China. Another inspiring experience was meeting Vincent Kobler, a Babson ’99 graduate, who wrote a business plan while an undergrad at Babson and then acted on it after graduation. The business transformed into an internet marketing agency called EmporioAsia, and was acquired by Leo Burnett in 2006
Among the many highlights was presenting a feasibility analysis to Babson President Len Schlesinger and his wife Phyllis, Undergraduate Dean Dennis Hanno, and Babson Trustee and Alum Fred Kiang. The students spent just a week and a half generating ideas from their observations on the streets, interviews with Fudon students, conducting market tests around key uncertainties, as well as consulting the Babson library BRIC China link set up by Kristin Djorup for the class. All of this research, and many nights spent with their teams (and me) in the café downstairs in the hotel, helped them shape their business models into feasibility-stage opportunities. I left Shanghai inspired about entrepreneurship in China and happy to have experienced this with our Babson students.
Donna Kelley, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship
David H. Park ‘91 Term Chair in Entrepreneurship