Alibaba’s Gateway ’17 Opens New Doors to Chinese Market for Detroit Businesses

By Daniel Lai & Daniel A. Washington 

Alibaba Group Ltd.’s Gateway ’17 export conference held on June 20-21 at Cobo Center was the company’s first-ever event of its magnitude, attracting more than 3,000 businesses, entrepreneurs and media from 48 states, and many from the Detroit region.

“I cannot imagine a more fitting or welcoming place for our first Gateway event,” said Michael Evans, president of Alibaba Group, about the importance of Detroit during his opening remarks.

As a global leader in facilitating transactions and exchanges of goods and services for small businesses, entrepreneurs and consumers in China, Alibaba is looking to open new doors for businesses across the Midwest.

“Today I want to tell the people: If you miss the opportunity of selling products to China, you will miss the opportunity, you will miss the future,” said Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, in a conversation with PBS anchor Charlie Rose.

The opening ceremony included a surprise visit and remarks from local businessman Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures. Gilbert spoke briefly during a fireside chat with Lisa Ling, executive producer and host of “This is Life” on CNN.

“The truth is you can’t be afraid of failure in business,” Gilbert said. “You have to embrace it and all the opportunities afforded you to be successful – if you don’t you will never gain wealth.”

The conference included several keynotes and remarks from local and national figures, including:  Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Camping World and Good Sam Enterprises CEO Marcus Lemonis, UPS CEO David Abney,and many more.

View highlights from the Conference here.

Alibaba Founder Jack Ma: The Future Belongs to Small Businesses

The future belongs to small businesses that are flexible enough to embrace e-commerce, Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, predicted during a poignant keynote address at the Gateway ’17 export forum in Detroit.

Ma told the standing room-only crowd that the dominance of giant companies is declining as more small companies can cheaply and easily market their services on the internet.

“The internet is the opportunity of a lifetime for small businesses,” Ma said.

Customers that were once out of reach for startups that lacked the capital or know-how to expand is no longer an obstacle for those who have the will to learn how to move beyond their local market.

“If you believe it, you can make it happen,” he said, adding that customers are more interested in products and companies that cater specifically to their needs versus standardization.

And China is a willing market.

Rattling off statistic after statistic, Ma said 200 million Chinese customers a day purchase goods on their phones and Alibaba currently ships more than 60 million packages a day. He expects that number to increase to 1 billion packages in less than 10 years.

“Imagine the possibilities for American businesses and jobs,” he said. “Don’t ignore China as we shift from an export country to an import country. In the next decade, China’s middle class will increase to 500-600 million and with that, the demand for quality American products will be huge.”

So how does one tap into the Chinese market?

That is where companies like Alibaba and other e-commerce platforms come into play, Ma said.

The website currently has more than 7,000 U.S. companies selling products to China. Ma said he would like to increase that number to 1 million in the next five years. Doing so requires rapid adoption of new technology and a willingness to loosen restrictions in border-to-border trade.

“Think of us as a virtual mall with nearly half a billion shoppers buying from sellers that operate their own online storefronts. We are already a gateway for thousands of global brands, retailers and companies to sell to Chinese consumers,” Ma said.

Ma has traveled the world meeting with top government leaders to drive home his message that small businesses should lead globalization while also encouraging the creation of free trade zones specifically for those businesses.

Turning his attention to the business owners in the room, Ma also acknowledged that the road ahead for entrepreneurs is not without its own challenges. He himself experienced the heartache of rejection from venture capitalists, nearly leading his company to bankruptcy before finding success. Even at a young age, Ma said his applications to work for companies like KFC and to attend college at Harvard University were rejected. Still, he persisted.

Drawing on those lessons, Ma offered his advice for business success:

  • Believe in the future
  • Love your customer
  • Have a vision and hire smart individuals who believe in that vision
  • Focus on good products and customer service
  • Stay focused

He also offered a warning to those companies who have not caught up to the digital race:

“We are in the midst of the next technological revolution. Pay attention to the next 30 years. The companies that make the best use of the internet will win,” he said.

For more information on tapping into the Chinese market, visit

Daniel Lai is a communications specialist and copywriter at the Detroit Regional Chamber. 

Daniel A. Washington is an integrated marketing specialist at the Detroit Regional Chamber.

MICHauto Supports Student Entrepreneurs in Lear Open Innovation Challenge

By Daniel Lai

To continue to foster Detroit’s innovation community, Lear Corp. held an Open Innovation Challenge on April 1, which brought together six teams made up of students from three universities (University of Michigan, University of Michigan-Dearborn and Wayne State University) for a tournament-style pitch competition.

Throughout the day, Lear executives, corporate and community sponsors, and venture capitalists heard 15-minute pitches on solutions for advance technology and manufacturing.

The winning team received a prize package including a summer internship from Lear; prototyping kit, wireframing workshop and mentorship from Universal Mind; cash cards from POCOLab; a Fern task chair and ideation workshop from Haworth; breakfast with automotive executives, courtesy of MICHauto; and a Shinola watch.

“We’re trying to build an innovation ecosystem in Detroit that can connect the dots with various essential components, including startups, universities, businesses and venture capitalists. We want these bright and talented students to become a part of the driving force that creates a sustainable economic engine in Detroit and Michigan,” said Staney DeGraff, CEO of Innovatrium, which helped organize the event.

Daniel Lai is a communications specialist and copywriter at the Detroit Regional Chamber. 

Read more Lear Corp. related articles:

Cracking the Millennial Code

Lear Innovation Center, Detroit’s Latest Automotive Design Incubator, Opens Downtown


Michigan Congressional Delegation: In Digital Age, Michigan Positioned to Lead in IT, Automotive and Defense

By Daniel Lai

When it comes to Michigan’s economy, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters says he is bullish.

“This is an incredibly exciting place to live,” Peters said during remarks at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Networking Reception with the Michigan Congressional Delegation at the Skyline Club in Southfield on Monday.

Peters, who serves on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, kicked off the reception by informing more than 170 regional executives about the delegation’s work to position Detroit and Michigan as a leader in automotive, mobility, defense and information technology.

Peters spent the day visiting with companies in Macomb County’s Defense Corridor, including stops at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and TACOM Life Cycle Management Command. The tour included meetings with representatives from General Motors, who are working collaboratively with Army researchers on a hydrogen-powered Chevrolet Colorado ZH2. The vehicle will be used for U.S. Special Forces operations.


“We are at the cutting-edge of technology right now,” he said. “There hasn’t been another time in our history where we have been on the cusp of transformative technological change since the first car rolled off the assembly line, and it is happening right here in Michigan.”

Addressing the race for connected and automated vehicles, Peters said the Michigan delegation is working feverishly to make sure industry stakeholders have the tools they need for research and development.

“For self-driving cars to work, it requires machine learning. Therefore, the moonshot for artificial intelligence is self-driving cars. Michigan can be the epicenter of this development and our delegation is committed to achieving that vision,” Peters said.

He also emphasized the transformative impact of collaboration while praising the Chamber for its effort to convene regional stakeholders on issues important to businesses.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow spoke on the importance of urban revitalization and the critical role of Michigan’s agriculture industry on the U.S. economy.

“I always say Michigan doesn’t have an economy unless someone is building something or growing something,” Stabenow said, adding that increased development in Detroit is a positive sign for the state and region’s long-term prosperity.

“It is incredible to see so many people working so hard for Detroit, but we know we have to do more,” she said. “It only works if the neighborhoods are doing well, too.”

Acknowledging the need for federal funding to improve Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure, Stabenow said the delegation will continue to fight for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a key piece of legislation that provides federal dollars to protect the largest source of fresh surface water in the world. Additionally, Stabenow said the delegation is planning a tour of the Soo Locks near Sault Ste. Marie this year to call attention to their regional and national role as drivers of economic growth.

Peters and Stabenow were joined at the reception by U.S. Reps Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Dan Kildee (D-Flint), Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) and Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph).

Daniel Lai is a communications specialist and copywriter at the Detroit Regional Chamber. 

Read more from Daniel Lai:

Digital Marketing Experts: It’s Time to Rethink How You Connect with Your Audience

Macomb County Celebrates Business Community’s Impact on Economic Growth