Carter Tseng: An entrepreneur with a social mission

Carter Tseng is a director and member of Committee 100, co-founder of Monte Jade Science & Technology Association, the founder of Little Dragon Foundation, and the founder of Microtek International Inc. Photo: provided to

It is difficult to characterize Carter Tseng. As one of the first generation Chinese Americans, he has played many social roles from 1970s till today, from an ordinary high-tech employee to an entrepreneur, a mentor for entrepreneurs, a member of the 100 Committee, a philanthropist, and a senior consultant for cities such as Tianjin and Shanghai and universities in China.

He was born in 1948 in Sichuan province of China, one year before the founding of the PRC. He studied at the National Taiwan University in the 1960s, and moved to the United States in 1970s.

Like many Chinese who were naturalized as American citizens after receiving a doctoral degree in the field of science and technology, Tseng found a regular job in the US after graduating from UCLA with a PhD degree in Computer Science. Due to both “internal factors” and “external factors”, as he said in a recent interview with, Tseng returned to Taiwan in 1980s and founded Microtek International Inc., which claimed a number of industry-firsts, for example the world’s first 300-dpi black-and-while sheet-fed scanner, and became the first company in the Hsinchu Science & Industrial Park to complete an IPO in 1988.

The startup experience during the eight years was a process of “becoming somebody from nobody” for Tseng. In an era when the idea of venture capital was yet to be introduced into China, if someone wanted to start business, he had to either apply for mortgage or to have a rich father, Tseng recalled.

“When I just started the business, it took me at least 18 months to find the first investment, which was quite a long time compared with nowadays. Asking people to open the ‘gate’ to help you took three to five months at the beginning. But when you completed the IPO, people would come to you spontaneously to invest in your project,” he said, “Asking for money becomes easier after that.”

However, 10 years later in 1998, he began to devote his full time and energy into giving speeches and offering consulting to companies, universities and some developing cities in China, all on a non-profit basis, he said.

One of the reasons was that there were no so-called mentors at that time. For starters who wanted to do something, they had to figure out a way all by themselves. “When you fell down, you had to stand up by yourselves, and think about how to fix the problem.”

This somehow made Tseng realize the importance of good advice for beginners.

Besides, when he gave advice to other people occasionally after he decided to help others, the appreciation he received from people was better reward for him than any other form of tangible success.

“The happiness I got from helping others was much bigger compared to when I myself made my company big and successful,” he said.

Introducing advanced ideas to enterprises and cities

In 1990, he and several friends, including the CEO of Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Terry Gou, co-founded Monte Jade Science & Technology Association in the Silicon Valley to provide startup consultation to entrepreneurs from the US, Chinese mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

Each month, they invited an entrepreneurial mentor to share startup experiences in all aspects to the new entrepreneurs, which would be followed by Q&A sessions and parties between the organizers and the participants.

“When I just started the company, I found that I knew nothing about marketing, financing, promotion, and other things except computer science. So I spent nearly two years to gain that knowledge in Hsinchu Science Park,” Tseng recalled, “That’s why I often encourage young people to take part in various social associations to gain all kinds of knowledge needed for startups.”

As the biggest non-profit organization in the technology field at that time, one of the biggest contributions that Monte Jade made was to help Shanghai city attract investments from US companies for the construction of the Pudong District, at a time when the establishment of non-profit organizations was not allowed in China, and the country was undergoing economic reform.

“I introduced the needs of Shanghai to Monte Jade and found qualified US companies before the Shanghai delegation came to the US. When they arrived, they could effectively find investors for their projects,” he said.

As a “bridge between the government and the enterprises” and as the leading Chinese high-tech elite organization, Monte Jade expanded its scale to cover other places in China including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Shenzhen. “Once you join the Association, you become one of the brothers,” he said.

In 1996, he founded the Little Dragon Foundation, one of the goals of which was training and nurturing executives and managers of large businesses in China. The companies that Tseng has helped include Tianjin Zhonghuan Electronic and Information (Group) Co., Ltd, a large state-owned enterprise group authorized by the Tianjin Municipal Government, TCL Corporation, BOE Technology Group, and so on. He also introduced Dale Carnegie Training, software CMM certification, and Six Sigma into China.

In 2001, together with the Nankai University and Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Zone, the Little Dragon Foundation started Nankai International Management Forum, committed to provide advanced strategies to the development of Tianjin, the economic development of which was far behind many other cities in China at that time, through international communication with scholars, enterprises and governments. One of the focuses of the Forum was the construction of Tianjin Binhai New Area.

Currently based in Beijing’s Asian Games Village, Tseng visits Tianjin each year, making speeches and introducing strategies to the government and local enterprises. “I used to go to Tianjin four days a month, and about 10 times a year for 10 years. That is the highest record,” Tseng recalled.

“I’m willing to introduce advanced ideas to local cities and enterprises,” Tseng said, “But I have only one expectation. I want my advice to be appreciated. China is a country where the top leader has the final say. I want my advice to be heard by those who really care.”

“Charity can reduce inequality"

Over the past decade, China has become the world’s second-largest economy after the US. However, one of the factors hindering the country to become a true power is the huge gap between the rich and the poor, which is also one of the tasks that the Xi government faces in realizing national rejuvenation.

As the one of the Board of Directors of Give2Asia, empowered by the Asia Foundation in 2001 to serve as a channel for diaspora philanthropy from the US to many Asian countries, Tseng said that the measures the US took to tackle social poverty were worth learning for China.

One of the reasons for the popularity of charity in the US is that many people have realized that a profit-oriented capitalist society will finally lead to a gap between the rich and the poor, Tseng said. While the government has a limited power, charity can help to narrow the gap by helping the poverty-stricken groups.

“In America there are unwritten rules that 4% of a company’s profit should be used for charity,” Tseng said, “Nowadays some companies in China are also doing charity under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This is a right path for China to take,” he said.

After Tseng joined Give2Asia, he became responsible for all Give2Asia affairs in China as he was the only one in the council living in Beijing and familiar with the process of doing things in China.

The donation model of Give2Asia, according to Tseng, is “donor advice fund”, which means the foundation helps to donate the money according to the willingness of the donors.

“If a donor wants to donate to the education sector, then we will help him realize his goal; but if the donor has no idea which school to donate, we will provide our advice. Meanwhile, we will follow up and monitor the execution of the process,” noted Tseng.

Each year, Give2Asia raises $40 million to $50 million, among which 30% is introduced into China, Tseng said.

In the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province, nearly $18 million was donated to Sichuan province by Give2Asia with 57 project-based subsidies, revealed Tseng, who was appointed as the Chair of the 2008 China earthquake relief committee.

Like many other philanthropists coming from an enterprise, Tseng thinks he is not different from others. 

“Helping is the foundation of happiness. The more you give, the more you will be rewarded” he said, “If you make a lot of money, you could only be called an entrepreneur. Only when you donate a lot, can you be regarded as a great entrepreneur.”

The only difference among philanthropists is the area that you are committed to. For Tseng, education is something that really matters.

“Everyone has the right to receive education. Education can not only change one’s life, but also the fate of his or her family,” he said.

After the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province, Tseng and his wife allocated the fellowship under Little Dragon Foundation to Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in Sichuan province, instead of a key university listed by the Ministry of Education in China, as students from key universities would rather go abroad for further study after graduation, while those from Chengdu University of TCM might prefer staying in their hometown and choose to work in the local healthcare system.

Around a decade ago, the Little Dragon Foundation joined the Hope for Pearl project, started in 2004 by a local organization in south China’s Zhejiang province, and committed to raise money for girls who had good academic performances but were not able to finish the middle and high school study due to financial reasons.

“These girls are very smart. Now the project can raise nearly 200 million yuan each year, and if there was no such project, at least 10,000 girls would drop out of school every year,” Tseng once said in an interview.

Turning fuerdai into chuang’erdai

Fuerdai, or second-generation rich, is a term used for describing young people who were born into wealthy families, mostly in the 1980s or later. One of the things that Tseng wants to do most in the next few years is to turn the Chinese fuerdai who do nothing but waste the family wealth, into chuang’erdai, a term referring to those who are born into rich families but choose to do business with their own efforts.

“Once the fuerdai become chuang’erdai, the impact they will have on China’s development will be immense, because they have a higher starting point than others of the same generation. If more and more fuerdai become chuang’erdai, they will help to create more job opportunities” Tseng said.

As a director and member of the Committee 100, an elite organization of Chinese Americans established in 1990, Tseng hoped that there could be more exchanges between young people of the China and the US in the following 10 years.

“Lack of funds can be an obstacle to promoting communication between the young people of the two countries. I cannot predict whether the Committee will be able to afford to spend a large amount. If we can provide public funds it will be better, but if we cannot, at least we will build the bridge and provide basic help,” he said.

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