Helping people turn ideas into profitable businesses

With three people on her enterpreneurial  team, Ding managed to help launch 50 startups a year. Her incubator, ET Space is the only one to adopt a public-private partnership plan.

Ding Jiamin arrives at her office in Zizhu High-Tech Park in Minhang at 8:30am to start her day. There are only three people on her team, but they have managed to help launch 50 startups a year. Some area are already earning millions of yuan.

So-called “incubators,” which nurture start-up companies, are all the rage in this era when the national emphasis is on innovation.

Ding’s incubator, ET Space, was founded two years ago. It is high-intensity work.

“We have three people doing the job of six, Ding said. “They need to read through 20 project ideas a week while doing follow-up work with ones already started.”

Successful incubators are those that can spot potential in start-up applications and then go on to mentor young entrepreneurs with advice, business planning and investment searches. The incubation period typically lasts about three years before the startups are spun off to go it alone.

To attract the help of ET Space, applicants must present a worthwhile idea and a business plan. Their qualifications are assessed by industry leaders and academics.

A stream of incubators emerged after Premier Li Keqiang sounded the call for more innovation and entrepreneurship in his 2015 Government Work Report.

ET Space is one of the few incubators to adopt a public-private partnership plan.

“Government support can be a two-edged sword,” said Ding. “State-owned enterprises might not understand what products are best to be competitive in the market. On the other hand, if a startup is founded solely on private capital, it might lack insight of government’s policies. ET Space tries to leverage the best advantages of both.”

Xu Kaikai

Nearly 100 entrepreneurs attend a workshop session on international entrepreneurship at Zizhu ET Space

With the backing of major companies like Intel, E-home, Baidu and AVIV Civil Electronics, ET Space has successfully launched startups like Fame Smart, Qilewuqiong, Liyan Technology and Yingban Education.

Zizhu High-Tech Park is an ideal place for such an operation. It has the facilities and capital to foster a public-private partnership arrangement. The park places heavy emphasis on online audio-visual businesses and those in the Internet-Plus sector. It is backed by Shanghai’s best universities and some of its biggest corporations.

The explosion of incubators and start-up companies makes the search for business investment more competitive. That means those seeking funding for new ideas have to hone their business plans to perfect pitch.

Ding, however, remains optimistic. China has become more attractive to foreign investors, and ET Space is actively forging ties with international players.

Along one corridor in the company hangs a copper plate bearing the words World Economic Forum Zizhu. The plaque was especially designed for ET Space when it became one of the authorized incubators of the forum in China.

The forum, a nonprofit Swiss organization, holds annual meetings in winter and summer. Its summer forum brings the world’s top 1,000 young innovators together with its top 1,000 businessmen. Since 2013, ET Space has been recommending young innovators to attend the forum.

“It takes more than an impressive resume to be nominated,” Ding said. “What we are looking for are ambitious, passionate young people who want to make the world a better place.”

Times have changed, she said. It used to be older people who held the reins of creative change, but now a younger generation is stepping up to that challenge. They are more creative and they see the world in a different perspective. They are the owners of the future.”

Innovators nurtured by ET Space also won seats in the Chinese delegation attending this year’s G20 Youth Summit.

Ding’s group moves with the times. ET space is now assisting China’s “One Belt, One Road” policy initiative.

“ET Space is one of the ‘observation units’ for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” said Ding. “We will focus on educational technology in a bid to do our bit for the project.”

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