Five Seattle-Area Companies, and an Apprentice, Join WTIA’s Mobile Mission to China

10/14/08Follow @gthuang

‘Tis the season for grand tours of Asia. Last week, we covered life on the road with Intellectual Ventures, as the Bellevue, WA-based invention firm launched offices in five Asian countries, including China. This week, it’s the Washington Technology Industry Association’s turn. Together with the Washington State Community, Trade and Economic Development office, the WTIA is coordinating a three-city visit to China for five Seattle-area tech companies: RealNetworks, Formotus, Mobile Semiconductor, Zoodango, and McObject.

It’s the third WTIA-organized trip to China in the past year, and the first dedicated to a specific tech industry—mobile telecommunications. The trip’s focus “is on understanding the opportunity and dynamics of the China mobile market and setting up one-on-one business matchmaking meetings with the participants,” says Ken Myer, CEO of the WTIA (and an Xconomist). “Our goal with this mission is to open up business opportunities for our members who are seeking to enter or expand their presence in China.”

The business opportunity is a no-brainer, given the size and growth of China’s mobile market (600 million subscribers and counting). This week’s agenda includes stops in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, and meetings with more than 20 prominent companies, including Microsoft, Huawei, China Mobile, Hurray!, Sina.com, and Tencent. Myer says his team will also visit the WTIA’s office in the Longgang district of Shenzhen and its local host, Pacific Prestige, along with Chinese government officials there, including the Shenzhen vice mayor, Xu Qin.

All in all, it sounds like a fun and productive tour—one designed to build long-term relationships in the area. I had a chance to talk with a couple of the Seattle-area companies about their expectations for the trip. Joe Verschueren, co-founder and CEO of Formotus, a Bellevue-based maker of mobile software for businesses, says his goal is “to meet with potential strategic investors and go-to-market partners. Our partner candidates include carriers, device manufacturers, device distributors, industrial handheld computer manufacturers, distribution partners, potential joint venture partners and other companies involved in the cellular mobile industry.” Verschueren adds that he sees “tremendous opportunity for Formotus in China. We believe Formotus is favorably positioned to become an important partner to IT and Telco companies in China.”

Cameron Fisher, co-founder and CEO of Mobile Semiconductor, a Seattle-based maker of memory technologies for mobile handsets, emphasized the importance of really connecting with the local companies he’s meeting. “We hope to first understand the market and what these companies see as important differentiators,” Fisher says. “Our memory technology can enable new applications, especially data-intensive applications such as video sharing, mobile database access, or simply large file system access. As we understand their needs, we can help them to design better cell phones, mobile gaming devices, etc. Next we would like to partner on a next-gen handset design, and license our technology,” he says. “I expect to spend one or two years developing a few key partnerships. That would most likely include our retaining some local representation.”

There’s also a local celebrity among the WTIA contingent. James Sun, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Zoodango, a business-networking site, was the runner-up on ABC’s “The Apprentice 6″ last year. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Sun’s experience with the Donald buys him in China.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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