In a two-storey office building in Burnaby, British Columbia, Jack He and his team are hard at work. They are busy finalizing the marketing strategy of their newly finished skincare product line, organizing healthy meal events, and preparing to initiate a new round of capital raising. As a young firm established in 2010, Jack’s company, CICTAN-BIOTECH Corporation, aims high in the Canadian health-care industry: it has developed a variety of products, ranging from functional food to natural health supplements to skincare products. It supplies the local market, sells across Canada, and aims to tap into a new market in Asia.
From Cancer Specialist to Entrepreneur
Jack did not begin his own business at an early age. Instead, he was trained as a cancer specialist in China, and, after immigrating to Vancouver in 1998, he chose to work for a local pharmaceutical company for another eight years. “That is a valuable working experience,” he says. “It has not only taught me the professional managerial skills in the Canadian health-care industry, but also opened my eyes and shaped my future by helping me find where my true passion lies.”
While working at the local firm, Jack also applied his expertise in public service. Notably, in 2006, he created a non-governmental organization – an interactive platform to connect doctors and patients. At the same time, he also edited an international journal for cancer research, in which he summarized and shared with readers his own experience in treating cancer. Jack considers these experiences as the foundation laid for his own business. On the one hand, it connected him with many other medical and pharmaceutical professionals, some of whom later became his business partners; on the other hand, it made him realize that the values of his own company should be rooted in helping patients and serving customers. “Business is created to help others. Because of that, I was motivated to explore a new and better health-care business,” Jack says.
A New Health-care Business
An outstanding feature of his business model is to incorporate traditional Chinese medical concepts into the modern western health-care industry. After many years of clinical exploration into treatments for cancer and other chronic diseases, Jack redirected his focus to people’s wellness, hoping to find a way to help treat preventable diseases. Familiar with the teachings and doctrines imparted by the Huangdi Neijing – the fundamental doctrinal source for Chinese medicine for over two millennia – he has turned his attention to sourcing healthy food with medicinal qualities. “I believe that this is the strength of our own culture. Traditional Chinese medicine deserves more attention and internationalization. It will offer more options for the modern health-care industry,” he says. Therefore, his research team has brought plenty of Chinese medicinal herbs to Canada. They have been found to contain high nutritional and medicinal value, and, Jack believes, to be more natural, safer, and more effective than western medicine.
In addition, Jack has also expanded his business beyond healthy, functional food into skincare and health-care services. He summarizes by saying, “Our biggest achievement over the past six years is a full industry chain connecting research and development with product manufacturing, branding, sales, and customer services.” Through this channel, Jack expects to deliver specialized products and services to his customers; he is also hoping to develop products that meet future health needs.
Product Differentiation: Branding Is the Key
Despite his creative ideas in the evolving health-care industry, Jack admits that sales volume still lags behind his expectation. “I don’t think people have caught on to my company and the products we offer. Moreover, there might also be concerns over the functions and credibility of traditional Chinese medicine. I think we need to expend more of our time and energy towards raising people’s awareness about the benefits of Chinese medicine, and by extension of that, of my company and products as well.”
Jack and his team recently completed the design of their skincare products. In the near future, they will consider further expansion in retail business to offer prospective customers a valuable personal experience of CICTAN-BIOTECH’s products and services.
Business Culture: Respect and Communication
In terms of corporate administration, Jack feels very comfortable working with his Canadian business partners and employees. As he explains, “We have kept frequent, pleasant, and efficient communications. We are not only seeking consensus on business plans. Rather, we expect to solve conflicts through conversations.” More importantly, Jack contends that mutual respect has enabled his employees to work with passion and remain committed to their daily work.
Call for Tailored Government Policies
Over the past six years, Jack recalls, he never seized the opportunity to take full advantage of government resources. The underlying reason, as he explains, is that a lot of newly immigrated Chinese entrepreneurs, like himself, are not familiar with government support and services, such as bank loans and taxation. Because of that, they don’t know how and where to seek government support. After many years of exploration in the Canadian market, Jack now knows that young biotech firms like his own business are in fact eligible for preferential taxation rom the British Columbia government and other resources that would have been helpful in the first several years of operation. Jack appeals for government policies tailored to startup companies, and hopes to see a more effective communication channel through which the Canadian government will have a clear understanding of startups’ difficulties, and offer appropriate and effective support. At the same time, he also expects the government to promote greater communication between Chinese firms, government agencies, and local firms.
Jack spent nearly 15 years transforming himself from a cancer specialist to a businessman and entrepreneur who owns a company in the growing health-care industry. He is confident that he will be able to resolve any challenges his business may face in the futures and remains optimistic about his own career. In the coming decade, in addition to establishing the reputation of his company and products, Jack aims to further expand his business through mergers and acquisitions and by going public in the stock market.
Other reports in our “New Perspectives” series on Chinese entrepreneurs in Canada: