Alibaba Gateway ’17: Detroit startups see road bumps in going global

Global Business

Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba has spurned Wall Street and Silicon Valley to hold its first U.S. conference in Detroit.

It’s ignoring multinationals to appeal to small business owners to trade with China via its multiple sales platforms.

But some entrepreneurs will take persuading, as CGTN’s Owen Fairclough discovered.

Four wheels made Motor City – think Ford or General Motors. But Zak Pashak is all about two. Pashak founded Detroit Bikes as the city sank into the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

“When I first arrived in 2011 it was a lot less busy. Downtown certainly had a lot fewer people. But there was definitely a seed of something, an excitement.The nation was starting to wake up that Detroit was really important,” Pashak said.

His factory can turn out up to 100 handmade bikes a day.

A tiny number compared to multinational competitors who produce and sell millions of models every year – mostly from China. But there isn’t the same local labor of love.

Bringing neighborhoods where these start-ups are springing up back to life is a slow process. But just like Zak, Alibaba founder Jack Ma senses an opportunity here – holding his first ever US conference in Detroit to pitch to small midwestern businesses that their future lies in selling across its multiple online platforms.

He told the Gateway ’17 conference: “We want to support small businesses so they can sell their products globally.”

Zak doesn’t think it’s so simple, adding: “For me trying not to sell in China is a little challenging. What I would need is someone in the ground who can control the distribution channels there and can help me get this product into China.”

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