We were led to seats in the front row. I’m not positive of why, but I was thankful for the honor of being sat in front of the stage, while lamenting that my comings and goings would be visible to the entire conference room. An impeccably dressed waitress walked to our seats and filled our tea cups with hot water and then presented each of the four of us with coffee. This piqued my interest and I immediately looked around the room to see if the other conference attendees had been given coffee, tea, or both. My suspicions were rewarded: white cups of coffee and tea sat in front of the four of us, one American professor from the University of Michigan, and then only a few others throughout the room. I leaned over to Matt Werner and whispered “They gave us the coffee because we’re white.” Everyone else in the room was Chinese, or at least they were ethnically. Then again, what else would I have expected being at the annual meeting of the China Entrepreneur Network (CEN.)
CEN was founded to encourage innovative entrepreneurship in China. It links American and Chinese Universities and attracts members who care for social innovation, social business, and environmental protection. CEN’s emphasis upon social innovation and Bottom of the Pyramid growth are no surprise as it was founded at the University of Michigan, which the late C.K. Prahalad (renowned author of The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid) called home. From the University of Michigan CEN has spread to other universities and schools, including Thunderbird School of Global Management.
The Friday night welcoming event proceeded swiftly- with presentations and opening statements by Professors and student leaders. One professor had spoke at Thunderbird a few months ago, while another I recognized from the 2010 Net Impact Conference. When it came time for me to speak I gave a five minute introduction to Thunderbird and our commitment to attaining greater wealth, but never at the cost of our ideals. By the end of the evening the team found themselves not a little exhausted, perhaps even thankful for the free coffee.
The next day there was a full roster of events, but our duties to the TEMLab precluded us attending all of them. We arrived at South West Jiao Tong University’s newest campus. It was spacious and beautiful and built around a lake. I’d guess it was at least twice as large as my alma mater: The University of Colorado. When we arrived in the conference room for more presentations a Taiwanese speaker was discussing passion and how it was essential for entrepreneurs. Another speaker came from the renowned ecommerce firm Alibaba. We presented our project and received a good deal of interest, if no direct leads to someone we could interview. I’ll admit to getting a rush when I taught the attendees to yell “Anyue!” when I asked the mock question of “Where do I buy quality lemons?” I never expected that to happen.
The conference ended and photos were taken and hands were shook. There were further events on the next day, but we all knew that we were in Sichuan to research ways to market Anyue lemons… and THAT was what we spent our Sunday doing.