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Cyan Cooper, right, jokes around with a colleague during a Pioneer Sourcing photo shoot.
With its entrepreneurial culture, the College of Business sees many of its alumni start companies.
But not many of those startups are in China.
“One of my greatest fears is inadvertently falling into a vanilla lifestyle that makes for a boring story,” said Cyan Cooper, a 2007 graduate who founded Pioneer Sourcing, a footwear and apparel purchasing agency in Fujian, China.
After majoring in business and minoring in Chinese at Oregon State, Cooper earned a job as an English teacher in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. He taught for three years, then went to work for Chinook Trading Company, at the time a $70 million footwear manufacturing agency that had been in operation for two decades.
Chinook was closing a deal with Wolverine subsidiary Merrell just as Cooper came aboard, and Cooper spent two years in Jinjiang, Fujian Province, setting up and managing Chinook’s Merrell office. Then came his next opportunity, and challenge.
“I was approached by some wealthy Chinese factory owners I had come to know,” Cooper said. “They owned a holding company and one of their core businesses was footwear, and they wanted to expand that business by creating their own footwear manufacturing agency with a foreign partner. I had always wanted to start my own company and recognized this as a unique opportunity to do exactly that. In 2012 I parted ways with Chinook and embarked on my first entrepreneurial venture: Pioneer Sourcing.
“My Chinese partners brought resources and manufacturing relationships to the table, but outside of that everything else was my responsibility: the business plan, marketing and sales, creating a website, hiring staff, and overseeing day-to-day operations,” Cooper said. “My partners already had their end of the partnership dialed in; it was the side I was responsible for that was incomplete, so I was essentially on my own establishing a new enterprise in a foreign land. Within several months time we had enough credible leads to slow down our marketing efforts and start focusing on our real job: making shoes.”
Slightly more than a year after starting Pioneer Sourcing, Cooper partnered with an experienced footwear designer from Korea, and later with a factory.
“Looking to the future we are planning to launch several new shoe brands in Korea and the United States to expand our business beyond the agency model,” he said. “Though taking the entrepreneurial plunge has by far been the most difficult and stressful challenge of my life, it has also been the most rewarding. I have met some of the most inspiring people I have ever made acquaintance with, overcome many of my biggest fears, become smarter and more ambitious than I ever imagined, traveled around the world, found direction in my professional life, and, of course, made some money. Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle choice and by no means is for everyone, but without a doubt it was the right path for me.”