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Alibaba’s Gateway ’17 Opens New Doors To Chinese Market

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.

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.