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Tech hub Zhongguancun on the fast track to sustained development

Published on 12/27 2018  Source: China Daily


Zhongguancun, a high-tech business hub in Beijing, is spurring the city's growth with its technology and pioneering operations. 

On average, 80 tech startups were founded every day last year, putting it at the epicenter of national innovation. The number has risen to closer to 90 this year, local media reported. 

While 90 percent barely survive the first three years, a host of new startups are springing up, seeking the chance of meeting or surpassing global technological trends. 

Among them is Mingshuo (Beijing) Electronic Technology, a hightech company specializing in graphene applications. 

One of its signature products, an LED street lamp using graphene compound materials, has been exported to Japan. Its founder Chen Wei spent five years in laboratory research to discover a key compound material. 

The new lamp is a quarter of the size of a conventional lamp and one-fifth in weight yet its energy efficiency can be increased by 30 percent, according to the company. 

The smaller lamp allows more space for other features, including camera and radio services, sensors and links to 5G network access. 

It took the company less than four years from founding to exporting the lamp to Japan. 

At the beginning of the company's development, Chen traveled to cities in southern China to seek business partners, yet he failed many times before succeeding. 

He took with him three types of business cards - one printed with "general manager" and used for business talks for financing or signing contracts, one with "salesman", which he would take out for placing an order, and the other with "technician", which he would present when explaining technical issues to clients. 

His courage and resilience in facing failure is not a novelty in Zhuangguancun. 

Decades ago, the first group of tech experts who quit their jobs in research institutes or universities after the country's reform and opening-up turned to a different sphere - running businesses to industrialize their achievements. 

One of the pioneers is Chen Chunxian, who used to be a researcher at the Institute of Physics in 1978, an affiliate of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Three overseas visits, especially to Silicon Valley in the United States, prompted his decision to start up a tech business. 

He and his founding team set up a tech service unit in a warehouse room, which was about 10 square meters, in the institute in 1980. 

"We wanted to create a new model and explore a new path to see if China's high-tech sector could follow in Silicon Valley's suit," said Ji Shiying, another co-founder of the unit. 

Chen Chunxian recalled that he and his colleagues cycled around to promote business for two years after its founding. 

"It is hard to say whether an experiment would succeed, but at least I could begin experimenting," he said. 

As a result, they signed 27 deals to provide research and consultancy services. 

The city government afterwards rolled out a policy to encourage tech experts to start businesses. Chen Chunxian's business was upgraded into a company. 

Since then, legions of graduates from Peking and Tsinghua universities and CAS, as well as other higher education institutions, have started their venture in the business community. 

A large number of privately-run tech companies including Jinghai and Lenovo emerged in Zhongguancun, where an electronics-themed sales street took shape in 1985. Three years later, the State Council gave the green light to expand the street to a high-tech industrial development and experimental zone. 

Zhongguancun has always pursued innovation and entrepreneurship, said Zhang Jing'an, an expert on industrial parks. 

"We used to be followers (of the global technology trend) and later, we managed to catch up with it. Now we are among leaders that are shaping the future of the technological world," Zhang said. 

In 2009, Zhongguancun was positioned as a national innovation model zone, aimed at becoming a technology center worldwide, which put its development on the fast track. 

By the end of 2017, the zone was home to nearly 21,750 high-tech companies. They have a combined inventory of more than 80,000 invention patents.