Flying back to Denver from New York City on a cold Sunday in February 2012, International College Beijing (ICB) student Wanyi Yang reflected on her four days of networking as a new, invited fellow of Kairos, a global, student-run foundation of 750 of the most enterprising and innovative students from top universities across 20 countries. Only half of the participants could speak any Chinese, but all came to quickly understand that Wanyi was an enthusiastic, forward-thinking business developer from CU Denver.
Wanyi as quickly concluded that her educated colleagues fell into two groups: those whose families had prepared the way for them; and those who had done it all on their own. She knew which group she belonged to. Wanyi represents a new generation of Chinese graduates who are highly motivated to learn about—and to put into practice— entrepreneurial techniques that are more often associated with the west. These new visionaries recognize that entrepreneurship fuels economic development not only for themselves and their families, but also for their country.
In spring 2012, Wanyi purchased a small, fast-food shop that prepared foods in the mala tang (hot pot) manner (the cost was 20,000 renminbi, equivalent to about $5,000). Understanding the start-up concept of “location, location, location”, she correctly predicted that the shop’s location in the Jin Ma Hotel complex, adjacent to the ICB/CAU campus, would result in a reliable clientele of students, shoppers, pedestrians, and hotel guests.
With a hired manager and an additional rotating staff of six, Wanyi worked mornings and late afternoons at the shop during school days, attending classes in between and completing assignments in her shared dorm room of six students in the late evenings. To keep up, she only slept three to four hours each night; weekends meant long workdays. When chosen to serve as ICB student body president, in part because of her entrepreneurial zeal, Wanyi understood that something had to give. So she turned over the business to another owner. Only to found a second venture, Connect Elite Organization (CEO), a not-for-profit that works to connect students with local distinguished employers.
Her innovative networking techniques resulted in CEO’s first student/employer networking conference, in which 500 Chinese students had the opportunity to mingle with 30 managers from diverse companies across the Beijing region. How did the event receive funding? By Wanyi’s further determination—she went door-to door in Beijing´s business district on a cold-call basis, successfully raising 4000 renminbi.
CEO´s future objective is to create a model similar to that of Kairos for student leaders throughout China. Knowing which of the two groups of entrepreneurs Wanyi comes from, the odds are in her favor.