Interview: Jianghanhan Li (China America Innovation Network)

I recently interviewed Jianghanhan Li, Marketing Director at the China America Innovation Network (CHAIN), based in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Interview” may be too strong of a word; it was more an informal dialogue about the connection between Asian and American start-up industries and how we see the Chinese and American start-up connections. CHAIN helps entrepreneurs transform innovation into value through knowledge and resource exchange between U.S. and China. Founded in 2011, the CHAIN network now connects thousands of members in Silicon Valley and China.

Can you tell me a bit more about CHAIN, what you’re working on and what your team is trying to accomplish?

We are a non-profit network that focuses on bridging America and China in terms of entrepreneurial and innovation opportunities. Mostly we hold events in Silicon Valley, but we also host annual conferences in China – we have had 3 conferences in Beijing over the last three years. This year we are planning to have our annual conference somewhere around Hangzhou, and we are looking into venues right now.

What is the expertise of CHAIN?

Simply, we connect people. People from many different areas and fields. Connecting entrepreneurs, investors, but also people from academia as well. Mostly, it’s people interested in going from Silicon Valley to Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, though surprisingly not much from Hong Kong, but we should start looking more into that!

In terms of perhaps of the less hub-like, Tier 1 cities in China that are still very important cities with high populations, like Tianjin, Chongqing, what is the tech scene like there?

I can only speak from what I’ve experienced with those cities and it is a bit more limited. We did get people coming from Suzhou, Hangzhou and Changzhou… around the South-east part of China. They’re not considered big tech hubs or first tier cities, but we still see their government and investment agencies sporadically coming to visit Silicon Valley. You might be surprised; they could sometimes offer substantial investment opportunities. When they get here, they really look to us to get them a taste of the start-up industry, the knowledge, and to help them understand what start-up they should interacting with first. If a Valley company has a Chinese team, they’re usually quite interested in meeting them, because if they’re able to make in San Francisco, they most likely have a distinct advantage in China already.

San Francisco must feature such a diversity of start-ups as well as people. Are there any trends you’ve noticed over there? I’ve never been to San Francisco myself…

We have people from all around the world – you’ll find people from every country here. Surprisingly, you’ll find relatively fewer “American”, Americans than expected. They’re also quite young, mostly fresh college graduates and this affects the entire environment. Many companies are referred to as “campuses”, reflecting a direct connection to university / college. The young nature really affects the energy here and environment. For East Asians, it’s mostly Chinese, Koreans, some Japanese… there’s a huge Vietnamese presence here…

Whoa, really?

Well, I meant the Vietnamese population is huge here. I mean as an ethnic group – not sure how many are in tech!

Is there any “perception” of Hong Kong in Silicon Valley or anything you’ve heard? …If there’s not fine – just curious!

(Laughs) We do run into people from Hong Kong, but you know what, a majority of the people we meet are actually from Taiwan and also connected to CASPACSPA and SVIEF. Those are organizations that are similar to us, but target different, specific fields and start-ups as a professional body. In San Francisco though, there are many people who speak Cantonese, probably with roots in Guangdong. I find many American founders who have settled in Shenzhen, and they love it! They can head to Hong Kong and have some fun and experiences in the city, and then go back to Shenzhen and work in their labs very easily. 



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