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Chinese execs look to Boston, MIT as entrepreneurial ecosystem model

Two-day campus visit focuses on developing innovation-driven enterprises

October 17, 2014

A study tour organized by the China Entrepreneur Club visited MIT for two days

A study tour organized by the China Entrepreneur Club visited MIT for two days

The Boston-area entrepreneurial ecosystem served as a model of growth this month for 13 members of a global study tour organized by the China Entrepreneur Club, a group of leading Chinese executives and senior managers. The study tour members attended a custom MIT Sloan Executive Education program Oct. 9-10. The course examined the rise of innovation-driven enterprises and asked the attendees to consider how similar ecosystems might be developed in China.

Attendees included a fashion designer, a commercial real estate developer, and the CEO of a solar energy company, among others. Associate Dean for Innovation Fiona Murray led the program, which featured instruction from Senior Lecturer Philip Budden and Professor of Organization Studies Roberto Fernandez. This was the second annual visit to Cambridge organized by the club.

The program was capped with a conversation, led by Budden, of how different cities and regions in the U.S. have developed entrepreneurial ecosystems. Participants discussed the importance of stakeholder interaction—between entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, governments, corporations, and schools—and how that might be replicated in parts of China.

“It’s not unattainable,” Budden said. “But you have to understand the special strength of your ecosystem … that gives you a unique role.”

Murray said a highlight of the course was a tour of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, where study tour members met with students and alumni leading companies including Embr Labs, the makers of Wristify, a bracelet that serves as a personal heating and cooling device, and Cardinal Wind, which developed a quantitative analysis tool for investment in wind energy projects. The idea, Murray said, was for the visitors to examine the Boston scene and develop an “innovation ecosystem strategy” to bring back to China.

Pujun Tian, the CEO of Cloud in the Ninth Sky film production company, said the visit took place as executives at her company, whose American Dreams in China helped to drive growth in the Chinese box office last year, consider developing a web-based series with production values on par with that of Netflix’s House of Cards. Tian is looking to capitalize on a growing interest in Hollywood in financing Chinese productions, she said. The MIT Sloan course, she said, helped her think about “how to manage things, step by step” and illustrated the importance of entrepreneurial education in supporting creative endeavors like her work.

Wei Liu, the general manager in charge of exploring new markets and products at Nanjing Wanghai Investment Development Group, said he would like to position the materials and recycling company as an innovation-driven enterprise, the type of fast-growing company Murray and other MIT faculty members see as critical to entrepreneurial ecosystems and the U.S. and world economies.

“My main business is a traditional business, but from the MIT study, [I learned] that an innovation-driven enterprise is at an advantage,” Liu said. “Maybe I can use my core advantage from the traditional business. I have a capital advantage. I can have the infrastructure advantage. We can employ some university graduates, we can provide some space, provide anything including the financial support, so we can support them to create another business [inside of Wanghai].”