Park supports dreams of young pioneers
Free offices, policy guidance, capital provided to ambitious startups, China Daily reports.
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.
Wang Xiangwei, CEO of Xinhebot, with his newly-developed service robot at the Entreprenuership Center of Haidian Overseas Students Pioneer Park in Beijing.