After China's government crushed the student movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989, student leader William Xin had to be smuggled out of the country. He spent years in exile in the United States, earning a master's in business administration from Yale University and starting a career in business.
Thirteen years and a world away from those dangerous days, he now spends his time thinking, of all things, of China's burgeoning plastics industry. He divides his time between offices in New York and China as he tries to build a business that links Chinese processors with the world.
Armed with about $1 million in start-up capital, Xin and partner Jeremy Haft founded BChinaB Inc. almost three years ago, and say they have built it into a manufacturing network of more than 800 privately owned plastic processors and mold-making shops in mainland China. The business started operating in earnest five months ago.
The model is simple - BCB finds work in the United States for small and midsize Chinese molding firms and tries to buy resin and materials for them at a discount. BCB does not own stakes in any of the Chinese companies, although it doesn't rule out doing that in the future.
``In the beginning we were trying to solve the problems of resin distribution,'' Xin said. ``Now, we are focused on helping the companies get orders. ... We have just opened the doors for them to expand to the international market.''
The company hopes to cut through what Xin calls China's notoriously inefficient distribution system - typically resin has to pass through four distributors to get to a molder in China. The company calls China's distribution system the biggest bottleneck in its economy.
Haft said the young company probably will turn a profit this year. Some press attention, including a March 11 piece in the Wall Street Journal on Chinese dissidents-turned-entrepreneurs, has helped generate interest.
The firm has a database that includes 838 molders, 98 materials suppliers and 35 tool shops, many in the Ningbo region of China.
``That database is really the competitive edge,'' Haft said. ``It has more depth than Dun and Bradstreet.''
Xin and Haft are new to plastic, but they say they identified it as the sector to focus on after they spent a year in China visiting factories in many industries.
``We found the plastics industry has the lowest barriers to entry for a player like ourselves and we felt here was the highest immediate need for sales channels into the U.S.,'' Haft said.
China's processing industry is very entrepreneurial - about 85 percent of it is privately owned, Haft said. BCB estimates that plastics is a $40 billion-a-year industry in China, and growing 18-30 percent a year.
Xin, whose family remains in China, said he sees his business activity in some ways as a continuation of his earlier life. He is reluctant to talk much about what happened in 1989, but the Journal said he was heavily involved in protests, and he described himself as a ``major leader.''
``I want to help people,'' he said. ``If I just remain as a dissident, it is not going to help anybody.''