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The Rise Of China’s Innovation Machine

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China has long been the factory floor that churns out popular gadgets for companies world-wide, but the country’s own technology products were rarely viewed as leading edge.

Now, that is beginning to change.

Increasingly, China’s own technology companies are challenging market leaders and setting trends in telecommunications, mobile devices and online services.

Keeping better-known global competitors at bay in their massive home market, they are hiring Silicon Valley executives and expanding overseas with aggressive marketing campaigns featuring international sports stars and celebrities.

Lenovo Group
BUSINESSES:
PCs and mobile devicesFOREIGN COUNTERPARTS:
PCs: Hewlett-Packard, Dell; Smartphones: Apple, Samsung

ANNUAL REVENUE, 2012:
$33.9 billion

KEY POINTS:
• Became world’s biggest PC maker in 2013
• Bought IBM’s PC business in 2005 for $1.25 billion
• Generates more than half of its revenue overseas

Chinese companies still face a perception problem among consumers in many parts of the world that their products aren’t as high-quality or reliable as others. Some foreign competitors have alleged that Beijing gives unfair advantages through subsidies, cheap financing and control over the currency market.

But, many executives at Chinese and Western companies contend, China’s technology sector is reaching a critical mass of expertise, talent and financial firepower that could realign the power structure of the global technology industry in the years ahead.

“Traditionally Chinese companies were fast followers, but we are starting to see true innovation,” said Colin Light, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The rise of China’s tech industry is fueled in part by its growing investment in research and development. According to a study released in December by U.S.-based Battelle Memorial Institute, R&D spending in China will likely reach $284 billion this year, up 22% from 2012. That compares with just 4% growth forecast in the U.S. to $465 billion for the same period. It forecasts China will surpass Europe in terms of R&D spending by 2018 and exceed the U.S. by 2022.

At Shenzhen-based Huawei Technologies Co., the world’s second-largest telecommunications-equipment supplier by revenue after Sweden’s Ericsson, annual R&D expenditures rose fourteenfold in a decade to $5.46 billion in 2013 from $389 million in 2003.

When Peter Zhou joined Huawei straight out of graduate school in 2000, the company’s Shanghai research center had a few hundred workers in a shared office. Every Wednesday night after work, Mr. Zhou and other young Chinese engineers gathered for study sessions, sometimes using university textbooks from the U.S.

“At that time, Huawei was not at the same level as Western companies,” Mr. Zhou, now an executive at Huawei’s wireless-equipment business, recalls.

“We were like students.”

But in the past decade, Huawei overtook Western rivals such as Nokia Corp. NOK1V.HE -0.51% and Alcatel-Lucent SA ALU.FR -1.10% in the telecom-gear market. Part of its success stemmed from Huawei engineers’ creative ways to upgrade wireless networks using software instead of a costly method of replacing all hardware components, according to Mr. Zhou.

Huawei now has an R&D center in Shanghai that employs more than 10,000 engineers, many of whom have computer-science degrees. As the mobile industry deploys faster fourth-generation networks, Huawei is already working on the technology for fifth-generation networks, which could be ready around 2020.

Huawei’s global expansion has met some skepticism. Last year, some European Union officials alleged that unfair subsidies from the Chinese government allowed Huawei to sell its gear at lower prices in Europe. Huawei denied those allegations.

In October, when Danish telecom carrier TDC TDC.KO -0.68% A/S announced a $700-million deal to replace its existing Ericsson equipment with Huawei’s gear, TDC Chief Executive Carsten Dilling said that he chose Huawei for its technical expertise, not its prices—adding that Huawei was “actually quite expensive.”

Glory Global Solutions Ltd., a U.K.-based global supplier of cash-handling machines used at banks, opened a research center in Shanghai in 2011. The center’s Chinese engineers are developing advanced sensor technology to identify various security features embedded in bank notes to detect counterfeit bills, combing software programming, hardware engineering and scientific methods like spectrometry.

Working on cutting-edge technology with Chinese engineers involves a risk of them leaving to set up local competitors, said its Chief Executive Paul Adams. Still, local engineers are bringing new ideas to Glory Global, he said.

China is also moving up the technological curve in sophisticated areas like mobile processor chips, where it used to be absent. U.S. competitors like Qualcomm Inc. QCOM +0.28% and Nvidia Corp. NVDA +0.31% are still far ahead, but China’s Fuzhou Rockchip Electronics Co. and Allwinner Technology Co. are increasing their presence in the fast-growing market for chips used in low-end smartphones and tablets. Last month, the Chinese government announced plans to spend almost $5 billion to create a fund to make investments in the country’s microchip industry.

In consumer products, few Chinese brands have succeeded in becoming household names globally. But personal-computer maker Lenovo Group Ltd. 0992.HK -2.68% , which last year overtook Hewlett-Packard Co. HPQ +2.50% as the world’s largest PC maker by units sold, is setting a new precedent with its aggressive global expansion in smartphones. In the third quarter of last year, Lenovo ranked third in smartphone sales globally after Samsung Electronics Co. 005930.SE -0.15% and Apple Inc., AAPL -0.56% according to research firm Gartner.

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Huawei spent $5.46 billion on research in 2013, up from $389 million in 2003. Above, a Huawei phone at CES. Associated Press

Lenovo, which bought International Business Machines Corp.’s IBM +0.54% PC business in 2005, released its first smartphone in China in 2010. At that time, its executives knew that the company lacked many of the resources necessary to compete globally in smartphones. Lenovo recruited many people from telecom and Internet industries to inject “new blood,” according to Chief Strategy Officer Zhou Qingtong.Around 2010, Lenovo also created a team of mobile-app developers. In mid-2013, it launched Qiezi, an app for both Apple’s iOS and Google Inc. GOOG +0.66% ‘s Android operating systems that enables two phones to instantly share photos and videos without an Internet connection. In four months after its debut, Qiezi gained more than 30 million users, according to Lenovo.

“We needed a game changer,” said J.D. Howard, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur who joined Lenovo in early 2012 to head its overseas mobile device operations.

In 2012, Lenovo signed a three-year sponsorship deal with the U.S. National Football League that allowed it to use NFL trademarks in its marketing. Lenovo also hired National Basketball Association star Kobe Bryant for its smartphone ads in Asia and enlisted Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher in its latest marketing ploy in the U.S.

Since 2012, Lenovo has launched smartphones in overseas markets such as Indonesia, India and Russia. In Indonesia, it now takes up more than 10% of the local smartphone market.

“Apple is of course a cool brand, but I think Lenovo is cool too,” said Amalia Pulungan, a nonprofit worker in Jakarta who bought a Lenovo smartphone in October.

In late December, Lenovo opened its new hub for research, development and production of smartphones and tablets in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, after it spent $800 million to build the 200,000 square-meter facility.

“We definitely want to be number one in smartphones, but it will be a long journey,” said Lenovo Chief Executive Yang Yuanqing during an interview.

While Chinese companies have made big gains in hardware, many of them face a challenge that has plagued other Asian technology companies: developing software and user interfaces that appeal to a global audience.

Tencent Holdings Ltd. TCEHY +0.20% , which owns the WeChat smartphone application, is bucking that trend. Launched in late 2010, WeChat dominates China’s mobile messaging market and the majority of the app’s 272 million monthly active users are in China. But last year, it spent $200 million on overseas ad campaigns to push WeChat into many markets including India, South Africa, Spain and Italy. Tencent says the app has more than 100 million downloads abroad.

WeChat was ahead of competitors in offering an easy-to-use feature for sending recorded voice messages and it is challenging the dominance of Silicon Valley’s WhatsApp, which has more than 300 million monthly active users globally.

Mikey Mashila, an 18-year-old fashion designer in Johannesburg, downloaded WeChat last summer, after seeing the app’s TV ad featuring Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi.

“Everyone knows Messi in South Africa,” said Mr. Mashila, who invited his friends to join WeChat and now uses the app as often as WhatsApp.

“In handsets or laptops, Chinese tech companies’ global expansion has been much more of a hardware story so far, and I think what’s fascinating about Tencent is that it’s becoming a software and services story,” said Michael Reynal, a portfolio manager at San Francisco-based RS Investments, which has about $27 billion in total assets under management.

Tencent’s share price nearly doubled last year and its market capitalization of $123 billion isn’t far from Facebook Inc. FB -0.71% ‘s $139 billion market value.

Tencent isn’t alone. A basket of Chinese tech stocks rose 42% over the past six months, according to Reorient Financial Markets. Over the same period, the S&P North American Technology Sector Index rose 18%.

Behind the overseas expansion of Lenovo, Huawei and Tencent, the domestic startup scene is also becoming more vibrant. In China, where smartphones are sole Internet tools for many consumers, the behavior of local mobile users has at times presaged trends in the U.S.

Several years ago, Chinese entrepreneur Tang Yan researched his idea of a location-based mobile dating app that would connect strangers in close geographic proximity, and was surprised to find few examples of such services among major U.S. apps. “I thought if the idea is right, then it would get hot in America first,” said Mr. Tang, who is now chief executive of Beijing Momo Technology.

Mr. Tang launched Momo, a dating app, in China in 2011 and now has more than 35 million monthly active users. The most similar app in the U.S., Tinder, launched in September 2012.

“More Chinese players are beginning to realize that to survive in the long run and have sustainable growth, they really have to innovate,” said Bernard Kwok, a Beijing-based senior vice president of U.S. software maker Symantec Corp. SYMC +0.70%.

written by experts at ClamorWorld, where you can express openly. see more

Entrepreneurship

Science is the Next Big Thing in Startups

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From pharmaceuticals to petrochemical processes: Newcomer companies and investors and investors alike are setting their sights on science. How the start-up scene moves beyond the mobile apps bubble…

For the last two years Silicon Valley analysts and venture capitalists are anticipating the burst of yet another bubble. This time, under the risk are the mobile start-ups which constitute the biggest share of the market. Out of 50 companies listed in Forbes’ “the hottest startup of 2015” (by valuation) only six companies are based on innovations in other-than-mobile area, one company provide cleaning services, while the rest are diverse mobile apps.

Meanwhile many products listed can be barely called innovative. A significant proportion of the listed start-ups are texting apps, apps for people search (starting from business partners to life partners) or delivery services. While those services can definitely facilitate one’s life, in general they differ from their predecessors by only a narrower audience.

Many venture investors expect stagnation if not decrease on the markets, which is why they start to transfer their capitals from start-ups offering customers software to start-ups offering specific solutions for existing businesses. Such companies are expected to demonstrate more stability in the near future.

The Market for Mobile Apps Might be Saturated

Back in 2012 a talented entrepreneur could walk into a venture capitalist’s office, say his startup was a mobile-first solution for pretty much any problem (payments! photos! blogging!), and walk out with a good-size seed investment. “That pitch was enough to get going,” says Roelof Botha, a partner with VC firm Sequoia Capital. “It’s not enough anymore.”

“I think investors are bored with investing in another messaging app. And our idea is crazy enough that it might just work. ”, has declared in 2014 Nadir Bagaveyev a founder of a start-up using 3-D printers to make rocket engines. By 2016 the company attracted investors funding sufficient to launch its first rocket.

Pharma and Biotech Start-Ups in High Demand

Currently the most successful science-based start-ups are the companies offering innovative solutions in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies. It’s noteworthy that despite the previous revelations and even judicial proceedings the list of the most expensive start-ups still includes Theranos, blood analyzing laboratory, whose story did not descend from the main pages of the global leading media from 2014.

It first amazed the audience with its fantastic take-off and then with its collapse. One of the crucial parts of the success story of this start-up is its fundamental difference from the majority of the services produced in the Silicon Valley. Unlike the others, it was not a story of yet another beautiful gadget for communication or mobile app, but the story of the scientific idea which intended to conquer the world.

The great success stories in other scientific areas are now happening on occasional basis. However certain facts allow to predict that the situation is to change soon. One of such factors is growing interest among the big corporations to attract innovative solutions from outside to develop their businesses.

Given the accelerating pace of scientific and technological development of the world, the activities of internal R & D departments are often turn to be insufficient to ensure stable development of innovative business. Outsourcing of the R&D may become the efficient mechanism to stimulate the growth of the company. And high-tech start-up can certainly benefit from it.

Start-Up Technology for the Petro-Business

In December, 2016 world leading companies in the field of gas processing, petrochemicals and chemicals announced their intentions to enforce their R&D capacities by attracting start-ups. 3M, AkzoNobel, BASF, The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, Henkel, Honeywell UOP, LG Chem, Linde, Sibur, Solvay and Technip together created a global stage for startups and investors.

“The petrochemicals industry can and must rely on the potential of open innovations to facilitate further inventions and implementation of new solutions in all major application areas, from construction and medicine to packaging and 3D printing. Thanks to the participation of international partners, IQ-CHem is now the largest global project within the industry which attracts innovative solutions and provides for their implementation into practice,” said Vasily Nomokonov, Executive Director of Sibur, a company which coordinates the project.

Positive Experience in Chemicals and Beyond

Some of the listed companies have already gained positive experience in working with start-ups which may have driven them to elaborate a systemic approach to attract innovative companies.

At the beginning of 2016, SIBUR and RRT Global start-up reached an agreement to build a pilot plant for isomerization based on RRT Global technologies in Sibur’s Industrial Park SIBUR “Tolyattisintez”. According to Oleg Giyazov, co-founder and CEO of RRT Global cooperation with a large corporation bring significant advantages to his company.

“By cooperation with Sibur we get a huge industrial experience that enables us to develop technologies and solutions better fitted to the market demand. This advantage is often not given due attention, but we, on the contrary, see significant opportunities in it. Currently, RRT Global cooperates with several companies around the world” he said.

Another petrochemical leader BASF enjoys successful cooperation with Genomatica start-up. In 2013 BASF started the production of 1,4-butanediol based on renewable feedstock (renewable BDO) using Genomatica’s patented process and in 2015 the license was expanded to the Asian market.

Unlike traditional forms of cooperation between a start-up and a venture capitalist, a cooperation between start-up and a relevant corporation allows to minimize the risks associated with investing in a potentially promising idea where the key word is “potential” (but not “guaranteed”). While delivering services in the same field as the start-up the corporation gets an opportunity to more effectively and accurately estimate the market value of an innovative idea and to support its implementation.

Structural Changes Ahead: Outlines of A Coming Market

In the short term prospective, possibly in 2017, the global start-up market will face structural changes – both in terms of start-ups professional orientation and of funding mechanism. In the future science-based start-ups will dominate the market and will change our lives at a deeper level than the way of sending a text message or searching the restaurant for an evening meal. To be more concise this is already happening in the pharmaceutical industry, and the other scientific areas are to follow.

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About the Author

This article was written by Dominik Stephan of Process Worldwide. See more.

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Callum Connects

Norman Tien, Founder of Neuromath and Early Math Matters

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From a young age, Norman Tien, found his passion helping students as a math tutor and went on to translate that into a successful business.

What’s your story?
From the age of 14, I knew I would be in business for myself and started designing my company logo.

Growing up in a poor family, I worked part time while I was in school. That’s when I started tutoring and realised I had a gift to help students “see” mathematics. I delivered good results, and my students started to love math as well.

A turning point was when I was down with dengue fever and I realised I had to grow my business to the next level. I started a learning centre and that was the beginning of Neuromath. The initial years were tough as costs went up while my personal income took a dive. I almost gave up, but I pushed through.

Today, we have 3 specialty math enrichment centres managed and delivered by my dedicated team of teachers.

What excites you most about your industry?
“How to win” has always influenced how I position myself in the industry. I researched the psychology of learning, why some students are so naturally good at math, while others struggled. I managed to find the connection, and have always sought out niches to position myself so I can win.

In the beginning, I fused academic delivery with psychology to differentiate my services. Now I have a good team of teachers fully equipped with a psychological skillset.

In the next evolution of our business, we will incorporate technology into education in order to customise each student’s learning experience based on his or her needs.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Singapore. One key driver why I started a business was, as a youth, I witnessed how my dad struggled daily as a taxi driver trying to make ends meet.

That said, I am very blessed to be in Singapore and to be given the right education. I see this as a very important factor to my success today.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – well, for one, most of my businesses are here. Singapore is convenient for business and is very well governed. There are rules and systems that make the entire entrepreneurial journey more secure here. One big plus is the location: Singapore is a hub that allows us to connect to the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
船到桥头自然直 –
There is a Chinese saying that when a boat goes near the pier, it will automatically align itself (with the current). It means we don’t have to worry too much, that things will take care of themselves.

A mentor once challenged me: “But who can guarantee you can even reach the pier?”

It is such a highly competitive world we are in, who can guarantee success? This is the ONE question that has been etched in my mind for decades. The Chinese saying always comes to mind when I am positioning, designing and strategizing for my business.

Who inspires you?
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – The fact that he started ruling the country just like a startup. With limited resources, he was able to find a strong positioning to differentiate his country from the rest of the of Asia. With hardwork and proper planning, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village to a prominent financial hub in Asia.

Because Mr. Lee Kuan Yew positioned Singapore so well, government owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines, have emerged as the best in the world.

His story inspires me, spurs me to understand that success is not by chance but by design – every little step, all the strategies are all planned out. Not at all by chance.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
My business coach, Marshall Thurber, shared with me the power of the “Trim Tab” – a small part of the rudder system in a ship. This Trim Tab, despite its small size, is able to influence the entire ship’s direction by turning it.

This metaphor helped me see that a man can influence the entire world if the right effort is applied. We are now living in an entirely new world, the way we commute with an app on the phone – that’s the power of the Trim Tab at work.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embark on the same journey but I would seek a mentor at a very early age.

I have been through many hard knocks along the way, and I definitely could have shortened the learning curve if I had a mentor to advise me on the many aspects of entrepreneurship.

How do you unwind?
Driving down long highways helps me unwind, that’s when I let my mind relax and wander.

I love long distance driving and riding. My wife gave me a Harley Davidson Tourer for my 50th birthday and we intend to embark on riding holidays together in Asia.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – I love the fast pace and the vibrance of the city. I love the cars there and it’s a very unique and exciting experience for me. And of course, I love the food there too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One Minute Millionaire – this book highlights the mindset of an individual that is the key determinant for success in whatever we embark on. As long as we know we have a very strong reason why we need to do it, we can do it!

Shameless plug for your business:
I am the CEO and Founder of 2 Math enrichment brands:
Neuromath is a Specialist Math Learning Centre that helps students from Primary 1 to Junior College, empowering them with strategies, skills and a strong desire to learn and problem solve. We use technology to train students to avoid careless mistakes reclaiming 30 marks or more in Math exams and achieve their full potential in math.
www.neuromath.com.sg

Early Math Matters is a premier Mathematics and Cognitive Development enrichment centre for preschool children aged 3-6 years old. Through purposeful play and our renowned EMM approach, we help learners build a strong foundation for problem solving at an early age, and instil in them a passion & love for math that will stay with them for life.
www.earlymathmatters.com

We are actively seeking passionate teachers, entrepreneurs and investors who are keen to grow the education business with us.

How can people connect with you?
I speak regularly at workshops for schools, parents and platforms demonstrating the use of technology for peak performance in education.

Do contact me at
www.NormanTien.com

Alternatively, you can connect with me:
www.NormanTien.com/facebook
www.NormanTien.com/linkedin

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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