Emerging talent: Dakai
Tapping Chinese brains
IF YOU’RE KEEN to do business in China, the internet is full of can’t-fail tips like, “order a glass of warm yoghurt to look sweet and considerate in meetings”. Yes, really.
However, if your idea of success doesn’t involve being laughed out of the boardroom, maybe you should speak to entrepreneur Bianca Grizhar instead.
Grizhar is the founder and driving force behind Dakai, a Wellington start-up looking to help Kiwi companies compete in China.
As everyone knows, China is a mindstoppingly large business opportunity. A $10 trillion economy growing at 7% a year – and that’s in a bad year.
What Dakai wants to do is match New Zealand businesses wanting to investigate the Chinese market, with Chinese students in New Zealand who know the market, know the people, and funnily enough, speak the language too.
Grizhar says there are a huge number of Chinese students studying in New Zealand universities – more than 30,000 in 2014 – but nobody ever thinks to ask them for advice.
“These students have an intimate understanding of China, but they are often ignored because of cultural and language barriers,” she says. “This is a huge oversight in terms of the ‘locals- only’ knowledge these students bring with them to New Zealand.
“There are some very simple things. A company’s website might not work in China because it uses blocked applications like Google or Facebook. Chinese students understand this. They can translate what a business is doing on a platform like Twitter, and put it onto the Chinese counterpart.”
Grizhar, 35, spent four years working in China’s ICT sector, before coming to New Zealand to work for Victoria University’s commercialisation arm.
She says businesses often underestimate what it takes to crack the Chinese market.
“There are the companies who want to get into China, but are a bit naïve about how much work is needed. They think you can take a three-week trip there, and all of a sudden you understand this huge market.”
Other businesses see China as a strange and intimidating place.
“They want to go there but it is too big, or they heard about other people failing, and they are too scared to try.”
Working with students is a cheap way for businesses to decide whether it is worth taking the plunge, Grizhar says. “Chinese students can answer questions like ‘Is there a market for this in China?’, and ‘What would it take to get this product or service over there?’”
Grizhar is working with Victoria University’s Chinese Students’ Association to get Dakai off the ground in Wellington. The first step is building a database of the 800 Chinese postgraduate students there and their expertise.
She is also working with innovation agency BizDojo to unearth some pilot projects – small companies keen to have a crack at China.
Pat English, executive director of the New Zealand China Council, says Dakai could play a valuable role helping New Zealand businesses with language and becoming “China-savvy”.
“Our number eight wire way of doing things has taken New Zealand businesses a long way,” he says, but that is not necessarily enough in the current environment.”
BizDojo co-founder Nick Shewring agrees. He says New Zealand businesses will need to take off their blinkers. “New Zealand has some hugely talented international students, but a lot of businesses don’t see that,” he says.
Meanwhile Chinese Students’ Association president Grace Cheng believes Asian students will be keen on the job opportunities involved.
Shewring says there is no reason Dakai can’t spread from Wellington to other places with lots of foreign students.
“Dakai addresses a universal problem. The potential is huge.”
“There are more than 30,000 Chinese students studying in New Zealand universities – but nobody ever thinks to ask them for advice.”
Idealog’s Emerging Talent page combines a story about new talents and technologies written and illustrated by an emerging journalist and photographer.