Alumnus Derek Capó ’03 masters Mandarin and launches a company that opens China to students, business executives
By Bryan Gilmer
Derek Capó ’03 figures if you’re fluent in English, Spanish and Mandarin, you ought to be able to conquer the world. And if, like him and many of his peers at FIU, you grew up speaking English and Spanish, he says the best way to add Chinese is to move to China and immerse yourself.
That’s what Capó did. He’d grown up in Miami, coming to FIU on a dual-enrollment program during high school. He got interested in China in the College of Business Administration after studying with Chinese professors, including Chun-Hao Chang, chair of the Department of Finance and Real Estate. After getting his bachelor’s in 2003, Capó put in a stint as a stock and bond analyst at Miami-based Everest Capital. That confirmed his belief that the most exciting business opportunities pointed east.
“China’s a developing country; it feels like how the United States was 60-70 years ago,” he says. “The world is changing, and China’s becoming this big presence. I decided I wanted to change my whole life around. I wanted to go to China.”
As he planned to move there, he realized he needed help enrolling in a language program, finding an apartment in a safe neighborhood and, at least at the beginning, even buying groceries whose labels were written in an alphabet he couldn’t understand.
He found a company offering that assistance. “The price was low, but the service was horrible,” he says. “I didn’t like their tutoring. I felt they didn’t really care about the customer.”
When Capó found a language program he liked, he devoted 10 months to intensive language instruction. It was only after he became fluent in Mandarin that he decided to start his own competing service. He and a business partner launched Next Step China in October 2008.
They began by offering to handle all the logistics for foreign exchange students studying in Beijing or Shanghai, logistics so daunting that very few foreign students had been coming.
Next Step China works to eliminate all the problems Capó encountered when he first stepped off the plane. The company picks you up at the airport, drives you to a furnished, luxury apartment they’ve leased for you, introduces you to the fellow exchange students who will be your roommates, gives you a local mobile phone, pre-programmed with Capó’s and other emergency numbers, and sets you up with a Chinese tutor. The service starts at $6,500 per semester, including rent, utilities, high-speed Internet access, weekly cleaning service, bottled water – and travel and medical insurance.
“The only two things you’re going to have to do are cook and study,” Capó says. “Bills are all taken care of. Your job is to learn the language.”
Next Step China is now creating programs for executives who want to add Chinese language skills to their résumé. In other words, people like Capó was a few years ago. He also wants to expand
to Latin America, where he can market his services in Spanish.
“Derek is a great example of what we promote at FIU,” says Joyce J. Elam, executive dean of the College of Business Administration. “We nurture the entrepreneurial spirit that many of our students already have, and the exposure to people from all over the world allows our students to capitalize on an interconnected global economy.”
Capó says FIU positions students well to succeed in China. “The teaching was great,” he says. “And I met a lot of international students. That was a great experience, being able to work on team projects with people from cultures all over the world.”
But knowing their languages, too, opens the most promising opportunities in business, Capó stresses: “At FIU, you have a lot of highly educated bilingual students. If they add Chinese, they can communicate with 1.1 billion more people.”