George Mason finance major, Ran Niu, recently won an award from the Harvard Action for Tomorrow Venture Program. The competition, held by the Harvard College Association for U.S.-China Relations, invites teams of young entrepreneurs from elite universities in both countries to present innovative solutions to tackle existing social problems within the U.S. and China. From the 15-20 teams that presented in this year's competition, Niu and her team were selected as winners for their proposal "Finding the Lost Soul of Jianshui Purple Pottery," which is centered on the pottery from their home province of Yunnan in China.
Niu is participating in the Sino-American 1+2+1 Dual Degree Program at George Mason University. As a part of this program, Niu began her studies in China at Yunnan University then transferred to Mason for two years after which she will return to China to complete her studies. Her teammates, Yemeng Li, an art history and art management major, and Yuchen Liu, a marketing major, are currently studying in China. "We like to call our team a 24/7 team," explains Niu. "Due to the time difference I was asleep when my teammates were preparing for the competition, and I was working on the project while they rested."
The team named their company TAO, which is the phonetic spelling of the Chinese word for "pottery", as well as the Chinese word for "way." Niu's parents inspired the project through their love of the local pottery from their small, rural town. Local artists in Jianshui have created beautiful pieces of artwork called "purple pottery" for centuries. The pottery is unique because of its intricate engravings, no glaze polish and use of calligraphy. This local form of art and its rich history are not well known in areas outside of Jianshui. TAO's proposal aims to market the art globally in an effort to preserve this traditional form of art, revive it with fresh and creative ideas, improve the quality of life for the Jianshui people, and inspire hope.
"The proposal aims to improve the local pottery industry environment and enhance fair trade," says Niu. "Our vision is to create a better trade environment for the Jianshui Purple Pottery industry and revive this traditional culture."
In their market analysis, TAO saw that the revenue of Chinese luxury items and the volume of Chinese art work trading have been steadily increasing. TAO's proposal capitalizes on this opportunity by marketing the pottery as a luxury item to middle class families who want to raise their social status by purchasing luxury items, who have the ability to purchase such items, and who are interested in traditional culture. The team's strategy includes providing professional training for local Jianshui artists at the Sichuan Fine Art Institute, inviting high profile artists to contribute to the local artwork and using this work to attract the public's attention, and opening flagship shops in a major city. All of this will assist in positioning the pottery as a high-end item. Niu traveled to Jianshui to speak to local artists and shop owners about the feasibility of their proposal. Many were enthusiastic about the plan and agreed that it would be successful.
"Identifying the opportunity to bring the multi-generational pottery making talents beyond the traditional borders of her home province demonstrate Ran's ability to think like a global business leader," comments associate dean of undergraduate programs Allison O'Brien. "I am very proud of the work done by Ran and her team, and the recognition of the quality of their entry by the Harvard Action for Tomorrow Venture judges only serves to validate the capabilities of our George Mason business students. We truly are developing the next generation of global business leaders here in the School of Management."