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Communications of the ACM

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Overseas Chinese Return to Start Companies

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TIANJIN, China — This city in northeastern China is a long way from Sand Hill Road, home to the world's greatest concentration of venture capitalists. But a deal too good to pass up led Yong Li to leave his family in Palo Alto a few months ago and head here to pursue his dream of starting a company, with backing from an unlikely source — China's newest capitalists, its Communist leaders.

"The government is rolling out the red carpet," said Li, who rides a rickety bicycle through an open-air market every morning and evening, grabbing wok-fried meals on his way to building TerraBay Pharmaceuticals, which is working on a treatment for lung cancer. "The government takes the risks. And there are almost no strings attached."

China has quickly grasped the fundamentals of Silicon Valley innovation: Daring investments in aggressive entrepreneurs create world-changing companies. Officials across the country are luring back Chinese-American technologists and executives — many from Silicon Valley — in hopes of seeding an entrepreneurial culture that they hope will some day create world-class companies. As the U.S. economy sputters, provincial officials are finding a receptive audience on tours to the Bay Area and other parts of America.

Silicon Valley has long been a global revolving door for the bright and ambitious who use experience gained at successful startups and companies as a springboard to launch new careers in their homeland. China's efforts to entice star talent to return, though, represent a new wrinkle. It is tapping into the anxieties of Chinese professionals who increasingly feel the valley is a professional dead-end.

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