As an artist, musician and entrepreneur working in Canada and the US over the past 30 years, the last thing in the world I was thinking of was starting a business in China. But, that is just what happened. Here is my story.
About three years ago, my wife and business partner, Cheryl Thornton and I were developing new technology for Storyvalues Interactive, the story-based educational website we had created. The program was being used extensively throughout the Toronto District School Board and many other schools and households in Canada and Australia.
To initiate the development we applied for a research grant to York University through Canada’s NSERC program. A couple weeks later we received good news! Our proposal was accepted by a computer science professor and one of her graduate students who was working toward a Master’s degree in Computer Science / big data.
We arranged a meeting at a local cafe, to go over the details of the project. The professor introduced us to Jet, her student. Both were originally from China, now Canadian citizens. Jet explained that he was 43 years old, had lived in several cities in China and had immigrated to Canada 15 years ago. He then detailed how our program had appealed to him in more than just a technical sense.
It was his observation that the program we had developed, which used storytelling as a foundation to promote positive character values, creativity, cultural awareness and communication skills, was exactly what is needed in China, and how parents there were now looking for programs that go beyond the strict academic learn-by-rote approach that dominated the Chinese educational system.
We listened with great interest and curiosity.
We didn’t know a lot about China and had certainly never entertained the idea of bringing our program there. Like most people in the West, our view of China was extremely limited in scope, mainly defined by mainstream media impressions and vague ideas about food, tea and Tiananmen Square. However, we were certainly open to exploring new ideas and we were intrigued with what Jet and his professor were saying.
We agreed to work together on the research project and, in subsequent meetings, came to learn more about the opportunity Jet was describing in China.
This is where the story takes a really unexpected turn.