I was excited about meeting Joey Rennert, lho works at the American consulate and is a budding entrepreneur. I had seen him at startup weekend and asked Andy Mok for an introduction. Ed met in the hotel lobby, where we were served hot water with lemon. Joey is in Beijing now because his wife works for the State Department. He has worked for the Olympic Committee three (or four?) times well as doing aid work, including running the United Nations workers camp in Haiti, which is where he got his idea. One of the most fundamental problems in disaster relief is distributing the aid that pours in today there is $3.4 billion waiting to be distributed in Haiti alone. One of the key hurdles is that the currency system breaks down and is replaced with bartering, which contributes to the intractable economic mess. His idea is to distribute aid though an alternate SMS-based currency. Theres lots of complexity in almost every aspect of the idea, but it iOS very intriguing. It has the potential to unlock aid for the most needy people in the world in a way that would allow them to ignite their own economy. If successfully introduced, the system could then replace existing money transfer solutions (Western Union) in those areas to become a big for-profit company. I was. Shocked to learn that $1 billion a year iOS transferred to Haiti this way, with an average of $100 sent ten times a year.
Although Joeys idea and market are different from what i usually see, his situation is not. He needs ad prototype (anyone out there interested in building one?) and doesnt really know how to get started. Im hoping to help him, first by describing the idea more clearly then by making introductions.
Next I took a brief taxi ride to an area called 798 to meet Roberta Lipson, an Eisenhower Fellowships selection committee member for lunch. 798 was an old factory area and artists started to rent the large, affordable spaces for studios. Now its going upscale with galleries and shops. I throughly enjoyed the half hour I spent wandering around and wish it wasnt so cold I wold have spent the afternoon.
Roberta has been in China for 30 years and runs a medical equipment distribution and healthcare delivery company, Chindex, that she started soon after she arrived. Today it is focused primarily on building and operating small private hospitals servicing ex-pats and wealthy Chinese. It is traded on NASDAQ, with a market cap of $250 million, up from $8 million when they first went public in 1994. Her perspective on many things was very different than others, the effect of time or personality (clearly shes a maverick and perfectly suited to China) or a mix of the two.
I took a taxi back to the hotel and went out and sat at a cafe. Then Claire met me and we took the subway towards Tsinghua to meet with Eisenhower Fellow Tsinghua Zongkai Shi, Vice Chairman, University Council. He had a car pick us up and take us to an absolutely amazing reception room, in what was a summer palace in the middle of the campus. After passing by huge stone guardian lions and through enormous gates, we walked through a series of courtyards and were ushered into a formal reception hall, with two head chairs and a line along each wall at their side. I cant believe that I didnt take any photos, but I didnt! Heres what I found on Wikipedia:
Jian Gao, Assistant Dean, Chair of Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship was there already and we sat and talked until Dr. Shi arrived. We chatted for a bit and then David Chen, VP Public Policy & Government Relations, GM China Group arrived. After a half hour or so, we walked to a restaurant in what used to be the University presidents house. Dinner was very good, and the conversation was amazing. David Chen opened China for General Motors with five people in the Holiday Inn (which is a 5-star hotel here). He had great stories and perspective. (Including one about flying to China with the GM chairman in the corporate jet, only to be so foiled by traffic that he ended up taking the subway home. Traffic is democratic.) I tried out a couple of my theories and was thrilled when he said (seemingly quite genuinely) that I was insightful. I was very grateful for a ride back to the hotel after dinner.
I've started and/or run too many venture capital-backed software companies, plus one ill-fated food startup.