Meet Dr. Sunny Yuan, Visiting Scholar


September 13, 2016



A visiting post-doctoral research fellow from the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University, Xiaohui (Sunny) Yuan hopes to learn about the Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurship ecosystem in her time at the Sutardja Center. As part of a project for the city government of Beijing, Dr. Yuan will study American incubator models and innovative spaces to inform plans and developments for China’s capital.

In the short month Dr. Yuan has spent at the center so far, she’s already begun to notice cultural differences between China and here. She’s found people in Silicon Valley are more likely to take risks and have have less fear of failure, while by contrast, people in China tend to be more conservative and risk-averse. “I find the idea that failure is an opportunity to be very inspiring.”

Another difference Sunny has seen is people here tend to have more respect for startup companies. In America, larger companies are willing to cooperate and do business with smaller startup companies. Big companies and the government are mostly willing to help other big companies in China. Dr. Yuan believes an increase in Chinese venture capitalism can improve this situation.

Yuan thinks the key to cultural change is for people to accept that life is uncertain and to value uncertainty. In China, people often don’t want to take risks because of lack of family support or because they’ve been taught to avoid them. “Education should change to encourage students to think independently, and think more [critically], to identify more opportunities… to show that people’s success is built on many failures.”

Sunny knows there’s no silver bullet to solve this problem. It will take a long time to change education and the ecosystem at large. “We grew up in an atmosphere that did not encourage students take risks. They just encouraged students to follow the rules and get higher grades. Students are always wondering, ‘What am I interested in?’ And that’s a big problem.”

Dr. Yuan’s background is in urban planning, and she’s excited to apply her learnings here to improve the innovative culture back home. The Chinese government has begun investing heavily in innovation and entrepreneurship, especially in high tech urban centers like Beijing.

Dr. Yuan hosts a Chinese podcast called “Fruit Talk” or “果说” with thousands of subscribers on iTunes. Through her podcasts, she encourages Chinese youth to pursue their creative dreams.