Park sup­ports dreams of young pioneers

Free of­fices, pol­icy guid­ance, cap­i­tal pro­vided to am­bi­tious star­tups, China Daily re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - ANALYSIS -

Ro­bot en­thu­si­ast Wang Xiang­wei was busy up­grad­ing his ser­vice ro­bot in a room at Haid­ian Over­seas Stu­dents Pi­o­neer Park in Bei­jing, the big­gest busi­ness in­cu­ba­tor in China, and could not con­tain his ex­cite­ment.

Wang, the CEO of Xin­hebot, was pleased that the robots are soon to be put in pro­duc­tion and ap­pear in homes help­ing peo­ple with their daily chores.

Though the com­pany is front and cen­ter in de­vel­op­ing ser­vice robots — it has more than 10 pend­ing patents — it’s still grap­pling with its startup phase.

“We didn’t even have our own of­fice,” said Ning Yi, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, who re­called the days when they started the com­pany two years ago in a rented apart­ment with no bath­room.

When the park no­ticed the com­pany’s tech­niques and de­vel­op­ment po­ten­tial, it as­sisted by of­fer­ing a com­fort­able of­fice in the park’s Entrepreneurship Val­ley.

Ning said the park helped mainly in two as­pects. Be­sides a free of­fice, the park helped them save time and energy with such mat­ters as com­pany reg­istry, patent ap­pli­ca­tions and learn­ing China’s key poli­cies.

Among the more than 300 startup com­pa­nies at the park, about 85 per­cent were founded by over­seas re­turnees, with nearly half of them com­ing back from the United States.

Founded in 1997, the park has helped more than 800 en­ter­prises go from startup to suc­cess. At least 14 of the com­pa­nies have gone public.

“There are so many hid­den tal­ents in our park,” said Wang Wei, deputy di­rec­tor of the park.

“We are happy to see re­turnees bring back the science and tech­niques they learned abroad and that we gave them more pos­si­bil­i­ties when they started their own com­pa­nies.”

Since the 1990s, China has been ap­peal­ing to Chi­nese stu­dents ed­u­cated abroad to re­turn and de­velop their ca­reers in China. Mil­lions of stu­dents have an­swered the call, lured by pref­er­en­tial poli­cies and a do­mes­tic busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment fa­vor­able for star­tups.

In the re­cent years, although China has en­tered a new stage of slower but re­silient growth, the num­ber of newly reg­is­tered en­ter­prises has kept grow­ing. Premier Li Ke­qiang has said that the gov­ern­ment would do ev­ery­thing in its power to pro­mote entrepreneurship and in­no­va­tion.

In the first six months of 2015, new com­pany regis­tra­tions jumped by 19.4 per­cent from a year ago to 2.1 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion for In­dus­try and Com­merce.

In Bei­jing’s Haid­ian dis­trict, where the pi­o­neer park is lo­cated, more than 20,000 re­turnees’ startup com­pa­nies ex­ist, ac­cord­ing to Zhang Ai­hua, a park di­rec­tor.

Wang Wei, also of the park, said new tech­niques emerge in the park ev­ery day, some of which are lead­ing the in­dus­try around the world.

In cities like Bei­jing and Shang­hai, over­seas stu­dents pi­o­neer parks such as the one in Haid­ian dis­trict, which are also called entrepreneurship parks, play an im­por­tant role in sup­port­ing the re­turnees. There are 34 over­seas stu­dents pi­o­neer parks across China.

Events such as train­ing ses­sions, in­ter­com­mu­nions and ca­reer fairs are held ev­ery one and a half days in the park on av­er­age, Wang Wei said.

The Haid­ian park is most proud of the fact it has raised more than 5 bil­lion yuan ($800 mil­lion) as start­ing funds for star­tups over the past 18 years.

As there are too many startup com­pa­nies in cities like Bei­jing, gov­ern­ments are not ca­pa­ble of fund­ing ev­ery com­pany. Though entrepreneurship parks have no cap­i­tal them­selves, in­vestors can be con­nected with star­tups.

“To­day’s Zhong­guan­cun (an area of Bei­jing) is Sil­i­con Val­ley 10 years ago. We missed those golden days, but must seize the chance now,” said Wang Hao, CEO of Phan­tom, a com­pany work­ing with smart home sys­tems.

Wang Hao re­turned to Bei­jing to start his com­pany three years ago af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia. His two long-time friends re­turned to China to join in, quit­ting their jobs and PhD pro­grams in the US.

Tired of the “sta­ble and plain” life in the US work­ing for other com­pa­nies, they be­lieved there were bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties in Bei­jing.

Af­ter two years of hard work, Phan­tom is now a com­pany with more than 20 em­ploy­ees. Wang Hao counts him­self lucky with the sup­port he and his part­ners have re­ceived from Ts­inghua Univer­sity, the Haid­ian gov­ern­ment and a host of or­ga­ni­za­tions in Bei­jing.

He be­lieves that Phan­tom will get stronger in China’s huge po­ten­tial mar­ket.

In some sec­ond-tier cities such as Suzhou, Zhong­shan and Guizhou, the lo­cal gov­ern­ments of­fer even more sup­port.

For ex­am­ple, Suzhou In­no­va­tion Park said that it can fund at most 4 mil­lion yuan to re­turnee en­trepreneurs, which is 40 times the amount Bei­jing’s gov­ern­ment usu­ally pro­vides for a startup com­pany.

Akeso Bio­pharma, founded in 2012 and based in Zhong­shan in South China, has ben­e­fited from the sup­port­ing poli­cies lo­cal gov­ern­ments pro­vide for re­turnees star­tups.

As a bio­med­i­cine com­pany, it has taken a long time for Akeso to cre­ate a prof­itable prod­uct, so fi­nance and space are es­sen­tial. The Zhong­shan lo­cal gov­ern­ment has funded Akeso with more than 9 mil­lion yuan in the past three years, in ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing fac­to­ries and of­fices.

At­tract­ing tal­ent can be a prob­lem in sec­ond-tier cities, so the lo­cal gov­ern­ment of Zhong­shan es­tab­lished a pol­icy that em­ploy­ees of the pi­o­neer­ing com­pa­nies can get sub­si­dies and per­ma­nent res­i­dent per­mits for em­ploy­ees in the city, which is also what many other sec­ond-tier cities of­fer.

“Zhong­shan is not as at­trac­tive as cities like Bei­jing, Shang­hai or Guangzhou. The poli­cies will greatly re­duce our pres­sure as the young peo­ple may value the ex­tra in­come,” said Michelle Xia, CEO of Akeso. But prob­lems still re­main. Xia said peo­ple she has en­coun­tered tend to ex­pect huge re­wards in a short time, but that rarely comes true. “Man­ag­ing a startup is a long-term job,” said Xia.

With more and more Chi­nese stu­dents study­ing abroad com­ing back to start busi­nesses ev­ery year, Wang Wei, deputy di­rec­tor of the park, has sim­i­lar con­cerns.

He said that 60 per­cent of star­tups fo­cus on the field of elec­tronic in­for­ma­tion, and the other 40 per­cent are mainly about new ma­te­ri­als and new tech­niques like energy con­serv­ing. “It’s hard for the com­pa­nies to be out­stand­ing if they have no ex­clu­sive tech­niques,” he said.

In the early 2000s, re­turnees were seen as the most out­stand­ing be­cause they worked hard to en­ter the top univer­si­ties in China and then got the chance to go abroad, which re­quired strong knowl­edge and abil­i­ties.

“Nowa­days, how­ever, it’s al­most like any­one who wants to study abroad can get the op­por­tu­nity,” Wang Wei said.

“Pi­o­neer­ing work is not a 100m dash but a marathon. You’d bet­ter be fully pre­pared when you de­cide to start,” he said.

Wang Wei added that it’s the de­tails of a per­son and the tech­niques a team grasps that de­cide how far it can go. He hopes that young peo­ple can be more pa­tient and re­spon­si­ble along the way.

De­spite the con­cerns, Wang Wei in­sisted that the pi­o­neer­ing en­vi­ron­ment pro­vides great op­por­tu­ni­ties in Bei­jing now, with the gov­ern­ment en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to ini­ti­ate and peo­ple re­spond­ing ac­tively.

“Trust me, if you master the core tech­nol­ogy and make full use of the In­ter­net, any­one who works stead­fastly can achieve what they want in the cur­rent pi­o­neer­ing en­vi­ron­ment in China,” he said.

Yan Dongjie con­trib­uted to this story.

YAN DONGJIE / CHINA DAILY

Wang Xiang­wei, CEO of Xin­hebot, with his newly-de­vel­oped ser­vice ro­bot at the En­treprenuer­ship Cen­ter of Haid­ian Over­seas Stu­dents Pi­o­neer Park in Bei­jing.

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