Startup Mentor & Entrepreneur Daniella Santana

Written by Peter Fenton

Startup mentor and entrepreneur, Daniella Santana, first arrived in Shenzhen in 2005. The vibrant Brazilian has high energy, a generous spirit and real insight into the challenges foreigners face operating a business in China. Recently, Peter Fenton, from Evertop Legal Solutions, caught up with Dany between her keynote addresses, master of ceremonies duties, and running her own business.

Shenzhen Party (SP): What was your first impression of Shenzhen?

Daniella Santana (DS): When I first arrived in Shenzhen, there was not much going on in the city. The foreign community was very small and most of the people were in the export business. In those early days, I left and came back to China twice, but now I have lived in Shenzhen for a decade.

Shenzhen is a great place to start a career. Compared to some cities, there are still plenty of great opportunities for those who can offer certain skills and services. If you come to Shenzhen to start a local business, you have a great chance to succeed.

The rapid development of the city is what impresses me the most. When I first arrived, there was only Line 1 on the metro, which was half the length it is now. Today, the metro has 11 lines. The city now has a wide variety of restaurants, bars, five-star hotels, and lots of business and networking events.

SP: You have a wealth of experience in logistics and assisting companies with OEM. Based on what you are seeing, where do you see the trade opportunities in Shenzhen at the moment?

DS: Shenzhen has diversified and developed. The city has had a great number of startups, both in tech and in hardware, working on all kinds of projects. In terms of trade, the market with the most potential is to import products into China for the country’s growing upper and middle classes. The domestic consumer market is booming, especially for high-quality goods and healthcare products.

SP: You facilitated the first TEDx event in Shenzhen. What interested you the most about the TEDx experience?

DS: TEDx was one of the best experiences of my life. A few years ago, I decided I would like to give a talk at TEDx, but I could never have imagined that one day I would help to put together, what has so far been the best TEDx event in Shenzhen. Held at the Shangri-la Hotel, we had 150 people attending the event, with top speakers coming from all over the world including London. It was the first time that the foreign community could attend a TEDx event in Shenzhen.

What I loved most was, firstly, to organize my first ever live TEDx talk, and secondly, to provide the foreign community with a TEDx talk in English, which for many of them would also be the first time they attended such an event.

SP: What do you see as the opportunities and the challenges for women in business in China?

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DS: China is far ahead of many other countries and also gives more opportunities to people, no matter their age, race, or gender. As long as you can deliver a good job, you can have the world at your feet.

There have been few instances where I felt it was difficult to do business as a woman in China. Most of the experiences here have been overwhelmingly positive and have helped me to get to where I am in my career today. I don’t think I could have achieved what I did, if it wasn’t for China.

China inspires you to be an entrepreneur. There are so many opportunities to open your own business here, and this is very inspiring and empowering for women. In China, it’s very easy to meet and develop relationships. You may meet someone at a networking event today and next month you could be starting a business or working on an amazing project with this person.

For instance, we have the first international Female Book Club of Shenzhen since July last year. All the books are free and we read one book per month then meet at the end of the month to discuss what we have read.

All the books are meant to help the women with their development, both in their business and their personal life. This non-profit event has helped and inspired many women to start a business or to get back into business after many years of being a stay-at-home mother. For me, this is a great source of inspiration.

SP: You recently addressed the Cross-Border Summit in Shenzhen. What was it like and which topics did you address in your presentation?

DS: The Cross-Border is a great initiative from Mike Michelini, which helps entrepreneurs and business owners to fill in the gaps for those who have a cross-border business in Asia. It covers quality control, logistics, Amazon, import/export, among other important topics.

Additionally, I also recently participated in the first “women only” fireside chat alongside other amazing women who are doing incredible things in China. I was very flattered to be invited this year. We talked about the challenges women face in business, how we got to where we are, and we gave a few tips for female entrepreneurs on how to get started and how to pursue their dreams.

SP: You also assist with Startup Chile. What opportunities do you see Chile has in China?

 DS: At Startup Chile, I mentor female entrepreneurs on manufacturing in China and business development for the Asian market. Startup Chile is the number one accelerator in Latin America, and my idea is to help as many startups as I can to not only enter the Chinese market, but also create their prototypes and products here and export them to Chile.

Due to the free trade agreement between both countries, products coming from China are more competitive in Chile, and the same applies to Chilean products going to China such as wine, blueberries, and avocados. Also, I have been working closely with the Chilean Consulate in Guangdong to increase awareness of Chilean products in Shenzhen.