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Women Entrepreneurs in China

“When sleeping women awake, mountains will move.”

Chinese Proverb.

“Women think bigger” is one theme Daniela Sena, one of Hangzhou’s top 10 female entrepreneurs, proposes over coffee on a gloomy November day at the Kerry Centre. Recently nominated for the accolade by Alibaba, at an event attended by Jack Ma, it’s not a bad honour for someone who, as a kid in Brazil, wanted to be a dentist.

Women who are making a difference in Hangzhou was the theme of that event and this is something close to Dani’s heart – helping women make a difference. But how did a kid with dentistry on her mind end up as a top business woman in China?

It all started back in Brazil, she explains, when a businessman she knew advised her to learn Chinese because China was the future. Leaving her small province in Brazil she arrived in China around 10 years ago, knowing no English and no Chinese but with a place at a university to learn. These were the hard years she tells me, having to learn both languages simultaneously not quite knowing what was going on.

She sowed the seeds for her entrepreneurial future in a blog. Dani posted pictures of items she was sending home to friends and family and people who wanted to purchase similar pieces of clothing and accessories for their own businesses contacted her. With the help of a Chinese friend Dani had to learn the ropes quickly, getting the correct papers and licenses to set up her import/export business––Continental Comex.

Since then Dani and her partner Cecilia Jiang have also diversified into the local cosmetics market with their brand DICI Cosmetics. This is primarily an online venture but what Dani is at pains to point out is that opportunities are available if you can dream big––there are no limits to what you can achieve.

Putting her money where her mouth is, Dani is at the forefront of a project which aims to inspire, encourage and connect female entrepreneurs across the country. SHE UP is not just for expats, she is at pains to point out, but for all women in China. Currently, the movement has a membership of over 500 women from 55 nationalities, representing all cultures. They have 23 partners and sponsors who support the weekly events and meetings. In Hangzhou they have around 30 – 40 ladies attending the events and the movement is spreading to other cities in China.

It comes as no surprise to find out that Dani’s mum is an activist for women’s rights at home in Brazil, something that Dani tells me she is rightly proud of. She says that before the Spring Break SHE UP will have an event to celebrate the best female led businesses in Hangzhou. Being a motivator must be in her blood, they say an apple never falls far away from the tree.

I ask Dani if, as a woman, she faces any discrimination or hurdles in her work? She tells me having a Chinese partner is important for anyone starting a business in China, male or female, but she agrees that being a foreigner can open some doors. Moreover, it is your Chinese partner who will know the community you want to access and what to do and when to do it. This is when she underlines her feeling that “Women think bigger, but men think louder.” “It’s about confidence,” she says. “It’s about women making themselves heard within these very diverse communities and in the marketplace.”

It's a big challenge, she allows, culture affects every business opportunity. But such diversity is also one which at the same time enriches the culture. “China is in my heart,” she smiles. But like mother, like daughter, motivating women to make a difference, to dream big, is all the incentive this inspirational woman needs.

Contact: WeChat: gh_849467deabee (Welcome to SHE UP)

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