A leading voice in Asia-focused research and studies in Canada, the Institute of Asian Research (IAR) and Centre for Chinese Research (CCR) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) together held the Canadian premiere of documentary Into the Silicon Valley North on April 12, 2017. Hundreds of esteemed scholars, local audience and media professionals attended the event.
Featuring four Vancouver-based Chinese millennial tech entrepreneurs, this documentary explores Vancouver’s burgeoning tech sector and brings a closer look to the roles international talents play in contributing to this fast-growing industry.
“The system in Canada is multiculturalism and welcoming people from different countries,” said Prof. Yves Tiberghien, director of IAR. “But above all, to leverage the positioning with their connection to China is good for Canada and Vancouver. So it’s a very exciting story.”
According to the 2016 annual report conducted by Canadian Bureau for International Education, Canada took in 353,000 international students in 2015, 34 per cent of whom came from China. Canada derives close to $8 billion annually from international student expenditures. More than 81,000 jobs were generated. Yet despite of all the economic boosts among other contributions, media exposures on international students and newcomers have oftentimes been rather negative and one-sided, Chinese immigrants in particular.
Concerned and frustrated by this phenomenon, Yuji Zhang, creative director from Metro Vancouver-based transcultural media agency Orient Star Media, felt a strong urge to tell the other side of the story, which prompted the production of Into the Silicon Valley North.
“The documentary is very likely the first project done focusing on tech entrepreneurs in British Columbia with immigrant backgrounds,” said Zhang. “Like many others, I first came to North America as an international student and have been through the journey searching for my true passion while working in the media industry.”
“Chinese immigrants set their foot on this land hundreds of years ago and have definitely had their ups and downs. By bringing out these vivid individual stories, my team wanted to showcase to a broader audience the accomplishments many Chinese immigrants have achieved through industrious hard works.”
With its unique perspective, in-depth research and comprehensive storyline, Into the Silicon Valley North successfully depicts the real life stories of Canadian entrepreneurs with immigrant backgrounds, which transcend language and cultural barriers and speak to audience from all walks of life.
“First and the most impressive aspect of this documentary really is the individual stories of each entrepreneur – the passion and honesty they put into this, the hardships they faced and the wisdom they felt. I’m impressed by each individual,” Prof. Tiberghien from UBC spoke highly of the documentary.
Originally from Romania, the stories of four young Chinese entrepreneurs also resonated with audience Lia Timis.
“The documentary has brought many segregated elements together. I was amazed by how well it was done,” said Timis. “It is very informative and I learnt quite a lot about the stories behind each entrepreneur, especially the ones carrying an immigrant background.”
Moderated by Prof. Tiberghien, executives from the tech start-ups featured in the documentary joined the after-screening panel discussion. Together, panellists and audience looked into the opportunities and challenges facing global creative talents in Canada, while decoding some of the stereotypes held towards international students and immigrants.
“It’s unfortunate that coverages on Chinese immigrants by mainstream media here in Canada are oftentimes on the negative side,” said Vancouver-based media professional, published columnist Ng Weng Hoong. “It’s part of the reasons why the general public has some wrong impressions of Chinese immigrants. I’m glad to see a documentary like this, which tells the other side of the story.”
When asked by the audience what’s their perception of Chinese tech companies being accused of “copying” western tech productions and brands, Vincent Yang, CEO of H+ Technology and one of the featured entrepreneurs in the documentary shared his insights.
“Yes there are a lot of companies (in China) are copying, especially the young start-up companies,” said Yang. “We need to share a lot of awareness around copyrights, but the reason (copying exists in China) is mostly due to the competitive environment. The industry is very tough for those small companies to survive… One of the ways to reduce the cost to start up a business therefore falls into trying to bring something that’s already established in foreign countries into China. You have to make your first bucket of gold, and then you can go further.”
Referring to one of China’s tech giants – Tencent, Yang pointed out that what differs Tencent from other copycat companies is that Tencent took advantage of existing technologies and worked on that base to further develop their products. Now, WeChat (developed by Tencent) is one of the most popular apps around the world.
Derek Chen, co-founder and president of Archiact, North America’s biggest researcher and developer in VR gaming market, seconded Yang’s view and remarked that as China has positioned itself for international establishment, which will require more Chinese companies to honour international industry patents and share global views if they want to success on an international level.
According to Canadian Bureau for International Education, more than half of international students currently studying in Canada expressed their willingness to apply for permanent residence upon graduation. These highly-skilled and well-educated talents have undoubtedly become one of the most essential driven forces to Canada’s continuous growth and future prosperity.
Because of its unique perspective, the documentary has earned much media attention, including Global News BC, CityTV, OMNI Television and many more. Zhang said she is glad to see that through Into the Silicon Valley North, audience are having a more comprehensive understanding of who these newcomers are and what they do to contribute to the society.
In an era with booming information, the role of media has never been more critical in terms of influencing and nurturing a community. For young media professionals like Zhang, the success of Into the Silicon Valley North marks only the starting point of a journey to bridge the gap between different societies and cultures. The future might be winding and challenging, but it sure is promising and will be rewarding.