Gateway conference aims to link entrepreneurs, China

The Detroit News,

Thousands of entrepreneurs and businesses from across the United States are in Detroit this week for an inaugural conference designed to connect them with opportunities in China.

Tuesday was the kickoff of the two-day Gateway ’17 conference headed by the Alibaba Group, the online shopping giant, at Cobo Center.

The company launched in 1999 to help small Chinese exporters, manufacturers and entrepreneurs sell internationally and has since “grown into a global leader in online and mobile commerce,” according to its website.

For Jack Ma, founder and chairman of Alibaba, it’s following through on a promise he made to President Donald Trump earlier this year to create one million jobs in the U.S.

The conference, which is slated to be annual, aims to simplify the process of connecting sellers with an exploding market in China, organizers said.

“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,” Ma said during a “fireside chat” with TV anchor Charlie Rose.

Detroit’s burgeoning business and development in recent years made the city the perfect host for a function centered around exploring commerce growth, officials told the large audience of professionals from 48 states.

“I cannot imagine a more fitting or welcoming place for our first Gateway event,” said Michael Evans, president of Alibaba Group, which reaches more than 500 million consumers.

Tuesday’s opening keynote speech functioned as a pep talk for the attendees who have the chance to join breakout sessions focused on in-demand industries in China as well as meet executives and market experts.

“It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur in this world,” Dan Gilbert, founder/chairman of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures, told the crowd.

The conference message resonated with guests such as Lisa Smith, who runs a clothing line in Metro Detroit.

“I think this is going to change the pace of my business,” she said before heading to a welcoming reception. “This is what Detroit needs to catapult it, to bring more business back.”

Gateway in Detroit represents another boon for a city that is now attracting business giants such as Amazon and Microsoft, Mayor Mike Duggan said onstage.

During the main day of the conference Wednesday, participants can learn about topics such as exporting fresh food and other goods as well as brand awareness. The morning keynote also is slated to feature business luminaries such as Gerber head Bill Partyka and mogul Martha Stewart.

Bloomberg News contributed.