Friday, April 22, 2016

Vancouver companies with Chinese links look to affirm Canadian identity

Vancouver companies with Chinese links look to affirm Canadian identity

VANCOUVER SUN  
Vancouver companies with Chinese links look to affirm Canadian identity
Hugh Chow is CEO of Vancouver-based technology incubator Istuary Innovation Group
Hugh Chow wants to make one point very clear: he works for a Canadian company, not a Chinese one.
Chow, who was named CEO of Vancouver-based technology incubator Istuary Innovation Group a month ago, said he understands the confusion. Company founder Ethan Sun is Chinese-Canadian; Istuary works closely with its Beijing-based sister company; the majority of employees are of Chinese-descent; and the company specifically aims to connect Canadian technology start-ups with China.
“It gives people the perception that, ‘Oh, the founder is from China, everyone here’s Chinese, it’s a company from China’,” said Chow, an experienced tech entrepreneur. “But at the end of the day, it’s all North American money, some from the United States, but most is from Canada. All the talent is homegrown, and we are very proud of what we do.”
Istuary is among a number of local companies with varying degrees of ties to China that are trying to boost their Canadian identity.
China Gold International Resources Corp., a Vancouver-based gold- and copper-mine operator (a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned China National Gold Group), is asserting its Canadian brand by listing on the TSX (ticker symbol CGG) and recruiting non-Chinese directors for its management (including a former Corazon Gold director).
The linchpin, however, is the company’s charitable works. During its 2015 fiscal results release last week, China Gold brought up its long-time support for the Canadian Cancer Society as an integral part of the company’s mission.
“From their very early days, they wanted to associate with an organization, a charity, where they could make a difference,” said Ron Kuehl, theCanadian Cancer Society’s vice-president of development and marketing for B.C. and Yukon, at the China Gold news conference. “China Gold has taken tremendous interest in the work we do here in Canada to advance care and research to, frankly, stop cancer before it starts. Their generous support over the years have been tremendous for us.”
China Gold executive vice-president Jerry Xie said Kuehl’s remarks reflected the company’s goals in the Canadian community, beyond simply looking for mining projects in which to invest.
“Coming to Canada fits our goal of becoming a global company, with international standards of executive management,” Xie said. “Part of that means being good corporate citizens in the markets where we are present.”
In February, when health industry investment group Aikang set up its North American headquarters in Vancouver, it launched with a $145,000 donation to the Vancouver General Hospital.
Istuary, however, is taking a different approach. Chow emphasized the fact the company’s global headquarters are in Vancouver, and it does not act as a subsidiary to anyone. Rather, the company is looking to position itself more akin to Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, in supporting Canadian technology know-how in finding a global market.
“Startups in Canada oftentimes struggle to go overseas. Sometimes, they even struggle going to the U.S.,” he said. “With us, they can go global on day one. … I’m Canadian, and my patriotic side would tell me there’s no reason, with all the good talent here, why we don’t have a more vibrant innovation sector.”
Chow recently made a recruiting run through Toronto, Ottawa and Waterloo, and said concerns about Istuary’s public branding or identity never came up. He added that the company’s 200 employees reflect a wide international background, with the key being their ability to perform in the ever-changing market, not their cultural heritage.
“It doesn’t mean we won’t go look at some other economies (outside of China), but this is our focus right now,” Chow said. “But we’re not going to pretend to be something we are not. We are Canadian, and we just have to be very forthcoming as to explaining our business model. If it takes a few more tries, that’s what we’re going to do.”