I spent this morning with a group of business leaders and entrepreneurs in Guangzhou, China, which we announced yesterday is hosting the 2017 Fortune Global Forum. It was a diverse group, ranging from auto giant GAC (number 303 on the Fortune Global 500) to entrepreneurial start-ups in robotics, biotech and other industries.
I’ve been skeptical that a Chinese economy dominated by State-Owned Enterprises could become a leader in developing disruptive technologies. But this morning, my skepticism began to fade. A number of companies here appear to be at the leading edge of the technology revolution that is changing the nature of business.
One of the most impressive was EHang, a drone manufacturer that last night staged a demonstration for us over the Pearl River, using 30 brightly lit drones to spell out the letters FGF (Fortune Global Forum) just under a nearly-full moon. This morning we learned that, beyond such marketing stunts, EHang is producing drones for a variety of business uses, and has developed what it bills as the world’s first “safe, smart and eco-friendly autonomous aerial vehicle,” the EHang 184. (See Fortune’s coverage of the EHang 184 here.) Among other things, the company’s founder says it is working with United Therapeutics to provide a timely way to transport organ recipients for transplant surgery.
Another Guangzhou company, iFLYTEK, is doing research in artificial intelligence and speech recognition. Yet another, Nexwise, is working on the application of blockchain technology to finance. Risong Intelligence is producing cutting-edge robotics for the region’s auto manufacturers. Gizwits is developing a software platform for the Internet of Things. And Medprin is using 3D-printing to make implantable medical devices.
One takeaway from the morning session is that, at a time when government and business are increasingly at odds in the U.S., government and business are working hand-in-hand in Guangzhou. Another is the grand ambition of this city: a representative of Grandview Group, which operates the largest shopping mall in the region, said Guangzhou’s goal is to become “the leading world city” and the “number one city of choice for tourists.” A single-minded focus on moon-shot goals is surely an economic advantage.
A third takeaway is that several of the entrepreneurs were educated in the U.S., but returned to Guangzhou to start their businesses. That’s only natural, given the scale of the opportunities available in a home market where people always tend to feel most comfortable. But one can only hope that misguided U.S. immigration policies didn’t contribute to driving them away.
Separately, I’d urge you to take time this morning to read Erika Fry’s excellent saga about one man’s effort to rehabilitate SeaWorld, which was devastated by the documentary Blackfish and subsequent attacks from animal rights advocates. The story is running in the new issue of Fortune magazine, but available online now.