College nerds undertake a long journey to become entrepreneurs
For many researchers and technologists, starting a business involves a painful transition to maturity.
For example, when Jiang Yiliang and three colleagues started Xi’an Jinhua Ecological Technology Co, the first thing they did was rent a nicely decorated office in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, in an attempt to impress customers and attract orders.
However, Jiang, the CEO, quickly discovered that the office was not an issue for potential customers. Instead, before they would consider placing an order they demanded demonstrations of the company’s new technologies as proof that they would help their businesses.
Jinhua provides soil remediation services, based on testing to identify the necessary nutrients and restructuring the soil to retain water and beneficial elements.
The government of the Yangling Demonstration Zone, a city in Shaanxi, has formulated measures to spur startups, including setting up a 15,000- square-meter Entrepreneurship and Innovation Space.
Jinhua decided to use the zone as a home for its laboratory, which houses experimental equipment that tests soil composition and provides solutions to raise crop yields and quality.
“The equipment cost 1.5 million yuan ($222,000). Next, we will rent 3,000 sq m of land for experimental farms. Our tech- nologies will be applied to the land as a demonstration of the differences they can make. That’s the key to getting orders — when customers see for themselves and make their own decision to work with us,” cofounder Gao Hailong said.
The company’s business model developed over time as Jiang and his colleagues became more sophisticated in their approach and adapted to new demands.
“From the very outset, we were nerds. Being the CEO is high-pressure work because I have to ensure my colleagues’ livelihoods. They were supposed to have good jobs and enjoyable lives after graduation. But everything depends on our management skills,” Jiang said.
Gao said one of the most difficult aspects of their work is that most farms are family run, which makes large-scale farming difficult and reduces opportunities to use high-tech applications.
“Faced with the long-term process of transforming agricultural technology into output, the company’s management must stay cool and alert to handle every tiny challenge,” he added. “All nerdy people will have to learn to be more clearsighted in the future.”
A member of staff from Shaanxi Guard Agriculture Ltd measures chlorophyll levels in plants.