It was founded a decade ago as a humble social club for overseas businessmen.
Today, the Monte Jade Science and Technology Association -- known as the "Taiwanese millionaires' club" in high-tech circles -- is a networking powerhouse that has spurred the formation of dozens of well-known companies around the nation.
The largest chapter by far is in Silicon Valley. But the Washington group, with 22 corporate members and more than 200 individual members, is now the third largest, close behind New York's.
"A few years ago we were basically nothing, but now we have critical mass," said Charles Chen, who has founded two computer companies in Vienna.
Indeed, the D.C. membership list reads like a Who's Who of Washington high tech:
James Whang, CEO of Rockville's Advanced Engineering & Planning Corp. David Lee, CEO of Gaitherburg's Global Satcom Technology Inc. Pam Tsao, founder of Alexandria's INTECS International Inc. And Gordon Chin-Ho Fung, who four years ago sold his McLean company, Performix, to a California rival for $64 million and retired at the age of 38.
Monte Jade is the brainchild of Yii-Der Chuang, now director of the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in Washington. Chuang remembers that when immigration from Taiwan and other parts of Asia began to take off in the 1980s, many overseas entrepreneurs struggled with the business customs and regulations of the United States.
Chuang envisioned a support group, "a family" as he put it, that would bring together entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and bankers in a formal way that would encourage them to trade advice.
In the spring of 1989, he invited 35 prominent Silicon Valley businessmen to establish the organization, which they named Monte Jade after the island country's highest mountain peak. Chapters in seven other American cities soon followed.
"I expected it to grow fast but not so fast," Chuang, 65, a North Potomac resident, said in a recent interview. Monte Jade now boasts some 20,000 members nationwide and has members in high positions at places such as Fortune 500 company Applied Materials and venture capital giant Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers.
Former Performix CEO Fung, who is now a private investor and has supported such much-touted local companies such as blackboard.com, said that when he first tried to start a business here, he felt lost.
"For immigrants to come here to do business in the high-tech industry, you need more of a push," Fung said.
Most members of the D.C. group are entrepreneurs but there are also several bankers, scientists with government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and a technology policy adviser on Capitol Hill.
Until recently, the group had a reputation for being cliquish. They threw banquets at the elite Tower Club at Tysons Corner. They held board meetings only in Mandarin, Taiwan's official language. And they publicized their events only by word of mouth.
In the past two years, however, Monte Jade chapters have begun to reach out to people of all ethnic and economic backgrounds. More and more non-Taiwanese -- even non-Chinese -- have begun to attend their meetings. Young American-born Taiwanese have also recently been attracted to the group. People such as Jeff Li, the 31-year-old marketing director for a Vienna-based Web start-up called Con-net.
"It's still fairly new now," Li said, "but its potential influence is great. Look at the type of people involved -- they are on the leading edge of technology."
Over the years, Monte Jade has strengthened ties between Washington, Silicon Valley and Taiwan, says Chuang. INTECS is working with MIT on Internet voice recognition as well as with a hospital group in Taipei on automated appointments system. Sherman Tuan, CEO of high-speed Internet access provider AboveNet, splits his time between his Vienna and San Jose offices.
Charles Ou, a senior economist in the Small Business Administration's research division, says ethnic networks are tremendously important in the high-tech business world in the Washington metropolitan area. He points out that events for the local Indian CEO High-Tech Council, for instance, have regularly drawn up to 500 participants.
Said Ou: "It is an essential dynamic in today's globalizing world."
A Look at
Monte Jade Science and Technology Association
Known as the "Taiwanese Millionaires Club," Monte Jade boasts several prominent members:
*James Whang, CEO of Rockville's Advanced Engineering & Planning Corp.
*David Lee, CEO of Gaitherburg's Global Satcom Technology Inc.
*Pam Tsao, founder of Alexandria's INTECS International Inc.