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.”

Bianca Grizhar

Idea­log’s Emerg­ing Tal­ent page com­bines a story about new tal­ents and tech­nolo­gies writ­ten and il­lus­trated by an emerg­ing jour­nal­ist and pho­tog­ra­pher.

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