June 2006 Board and Coffee Bean meeting

Maria Trombly
New SEG board member Zhongsu Chen


Zhongsu Chen, a venture capitalist and former executive at the Shanghai Stock Exchange, joined the SEG board this month.

Speaking before about 15 people who came to the June 30 SEG Coffee Bean meeting, he talked about his experience at the Exchange, as a venture capitalist, and with running business clubs in New York City.

"You see people become successful, and you think, 'I can do it, too,'" he said.

According to Chen, it was the personal relationships formed as a result of working on club committees together that helped many Chinese-Americans he knew in New York City ten years ago to rise to the top ranks of their companies, or to start their own firms. Many are now running multinational corporations' China divisions, he added.

Today, about 80% of his former group members are somewhere in greater China, he said.

He worked with a number of interconnected groups, he said, cinluding the Chinese Association for Science and Technology, the Chinese Finance Society, and the Chinese Business Association. They were primarily made up of Chinese-Americans, and many meetings were conducted in Mandarin.

Today, he said, a group like the SEG -- which has both Chinese and foreign members -- can serve as a bridge between the two worlds.

"This group could be the future," he said.

The way the groups worked was that they would hold regular dinners for about 30 to 40 people. Each person would pay for his or her own dinner, and a corporate sponsor or the group itself would pick up the cost of the dinner for the speaker.

Chen said that he was lucky not to start his own business when he first came to China, because many financial technology products that do well in the US don't translate easily to the Chinese mainland.

"Many people came and said they wanted to start an IT business here, and they're not around anymore," he said. "I only know one who is still surviving, and he's still losing money."

His years at the Shanghai Stock exchange educated him in how China's financial technology market worked, he said.

In particular, it taught him not to go into that line of business.

Instead, he's looking at business-to-consumer strategies, where personal relationships are not as important as in business-to-business startups.

Now a director at Time Innovation Ventures, he has closed his first fund. He has put abuot $10 million into chip design and telecom equipment design companies, with a little left over for follow-up investing into these same portfolio companies.

Now he's raising money for a second fund, he said.

Time Innovation is an early-stage venture capital fund, he said, which spends a lot of time helping its startup companies.

"We invest first and help them get their second and third round of financing," he said. "Many other VCs don't want to look at early stage companies because they don't know the market. Some people don't want to do due diligence -- they want other people to do the work, then they follow up."

Zhongsu also talked about his vision for the SEG. It included more events, more people working to organize the events, and a focus on practical issues like business planning, or opening a business in China.

Involving people in club work is important, he said, because it leads to better networking, as clubs members get to know each other by working together on projects. These are the kinds of relationships that last for years, and help people get new jobs, or help them get new businesses off the ground.

"The more you help other people, the more you help yourself," he said.

Other members also talked about their visions for the future of the club:

Paul Su (president emeritus)

SEG should help people find resrouces, to help each other. We should have an open door for everyone who has a dream about the future.

I also want to see regular meetings, seminars, training sessions.

We should also publish educational materials, a newsletter, or a magazine.

Melissa Rollins (events coordinator)

I also want to see more educational, how-to seminars -- on business plan writing, on how to get investors.

Maria Trombly (president)

I want more members to have the opportunity to practice leadership skills. I think the SEG should have a leadership succession plan, so that members get to practice different jobs on their way up the ladder -- membership coordinator, events director, treasurer -- before serving as president. Then, after they serve as president for a year, they can move up to the board, or go work on a non-leadership-ladder committee position, such as the newsletter. That way we can have new blood and ideas regularly coming into the club, and give members leadership experience and organizational practice.

Gemme VanHasselt (website)

All of the above. I also want to see a better location, and better communication with members.

Daniel Benefield

I'm interested in seeing something about the plus and minuses of opening a business, to let people know what the downsides are. The effect that working alone has on your motivation, and on your relationships. It can help keep someone from failing before they even start.

Twinsen Wu

I want to see more small group projects. To practice in small teams on tasks. For example, we can produce a "What not to do" pamphlet.

After the board members laid out their ideas for the future, many club members seconded the suggestion that we move to a new location. A committee was formed for the purpose of selecting a new location for future meetings of the club, starting in September.

Another issue raised was communication -- some members got the board announcements, some got the regular emails, few people got a meeting reminder. Also, emails continued to be send out with members names in the CC: field, rather than the BCC: field, so that other people could see the names. Gemme volunteered to prod Maria to remember to send our regular announcements to everybody.

The SEG also decided to alternate networking coffee meetings, such as the ones at the Coffee Bean, with speaker or panel events. The September event will have a speaker or panel, and a committee was formed to put together this event. Zhongsu volunteered to serve on this committee, to help out Melissa and Dani. Charles Wong volunteered to help find a location.

Finally, the SEG decided to use the July Coffee meeting to create a vision statement for the group.





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