The skyline of Guangzhou, China

Students Get Face Time with Chinese Business Leaders in New Undergrad Course

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Navigating an increasingly globalized world is central to the Carlson School’s offerings of international experiences for undergraduates. A new course at the school is tackling just that by immersing students in one of the most innovative places in the world: China.

Global Information Technology Entrepreneurship in China, IBUS 3055, was offered for the first time in the Spring 2019 semester and combines a flipped-classroom approach with a two-week trip to China at the end of the semester. There, 30 students had the opportunity to visit leading tech companies and entrepreneurs. The curriculum included cutting-edge information technologies like mobile and cloud computing, blockchain and cybersecurity, as well as entrepreneurial techniques like the Google Sprint method. 
Carlson School students were able to meet with top executives from companies like Alibaba, the world’s largest e-commerce retailer; DJI, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the global drone market; and Yoorstore, one of the world’s first cashier-less grocery stores, which boasts an innovative supply chain.

“I was immediately attracted to the idea of exploring cutting edge technologies in a country that’s at the forefront of innovation,” says Thomas Malz, a Management Information Systems major expected to graduate in Spring 2020. “I learned more about technologies like cloud computing, information security, and telecommunications in seven weeks than I did in all my other classes that semester.”

Experiencing globalization around the globe

The course is open to all undergraduate students and focuses heavily on interdisciplinary concepts, including information systems, entrepreneurship, and management. It is co-taught by two instructors from different disciplines, Professor Soumya Sen in the Information & Decision Sciences department and Steven Spruth, senior lecturer in Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship. The course examines how globalization has fundamentally changed the business world, particularly in the tech sector.

“This class provided me with a depth of information regarding new technologies and the backgrounds on Chinese companies deploying it,” says Malz. “China is and will continue to be one of the United States’ global competitors. Being able to see firsthand where China excels— and where it’s still behind—is something we can use to improve American business and society.”

Getting outside the classroom and into the real world is a key part of IBUS 3055, Professor Sen says.

“A goal of the course is for students to get firsthand experience with the benefits and opportunities that globalization provides,” Sen explains. “We focused on studying the interplay between talent, supply chain, resources, and regulation to get an idea of China’s unique business environment and how globalization has changed it.”

Jake Moberg, an Accounting major expected to graduate in Spring 2020, also felt that firsthand experience was incredibly important.

“I felt as if 85 percent of my learning came from the actual experience of traveling to China and absorbing the different culture and business environment,” he says. “ Actually seeing the technologies we heard about in class being applied in real-world instances provided me with a lot more holistic understanding of the topic.”

Face time with Chinese business leaders

While in China, the students traveled to three different cities: Hong Kong, the financial hub of Asia; Shenzhen, a tech hub; and Guangzhou, a manufacturing center. In each location, the students met with business leaders and learned how companies are utilizing the latest technology to solve complex challenges. 

They also were able to see examples of the Chinese entrepreneurial community through visits to companies like HAX, a hardware accelerator that provides hardware and funding to entrepreneurs for developing prototypes and ideas to present to venture capitalists and other funders. 

“The students were able to pitch their own ideas at Hax,” Sen says. “They developed an idea for a smart lunch box that could monitor your calorie intake automatically and help you with recommendations. They pitched that idea and were able to receive valuable feedback from top executives at HAX, including ways to more effectively pitch and the sorts of ideas that Hax funds.”

The Carlson School has a strong alumni presence in China that the program leveraged by having students meet with graduates. Among them was Branden Chen, a tech executive at Shenzhen Suishou Technology Company, who develops personal finance apps that help individuals receive financial services like credit. The company’s apps have serviced over 300 million people, making them two of the most popular personal finance apps in China. 

The students also met with Dr. Richard Lee, who has both an undergraduate degree and an MBA from the Carlson School, who has connected Italian products to the Chinese market through the creation of the Great Silk Road Project. Lee opened the first Ferrari dealership in mainland China. He has also been a generous benefactor of the Global Information Technology Entrepreneurship program, funding several scholarships to help students get first-hand experience in the Chinese business world. 

Students created a blog to chronicle their time in China. They were able to experience Chinese culture through a visit to the ancient town of Shawan, a trip to the largest electronics market in the world in Shenzhen and culinary lessons with a master Cantonese chef who has cooked for the likes of Queen Elizabeth. Students had the opportunity to cap off the trip with a scenic boat ride through Hong Kong on Dr. Lee’s yacht. 

“This course seriously broadened my horizons,” Moberg says. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Students interested in IBUS 3055 should reach out to the Carlson Global Institute.

IBUS 3055 students in China