If you have an innovation whose IP is trapped in a university, why not consider spinning it out in an investment-rich environment like China.
Of course, not every IP can promise to produce a good return on
investment. Chen sees screening and identifying potentially effective
research projects as a part of the challenge for PKU’s experts. The key
is to allocate funds on specific projects early on, to prove if the
technology is useful.
It’s important to note that China’s regional governments are better
known for nursing economic “bubbles” that eventually blow up, rather
than supporting real industrial development around technology projects
like solar and LED. Chen acknowledged that various regional governments
competing for early-stage funding in solar and LED are responsible for
the now-notorious solar bubble in China.
“We need to bring in a more balanced view on emerging technology,” he said.
Chen, however, quickly added, “But I must say that a ‘bubble’ is, in a
way, the only way for the sector to grow. Without it, it’s harder to get
Recalling his country’s recent history, Chen said, “China is going
through enormous changes now — from years of a planned economy to what
can be deemed a chaotic economy based on technology/market innovation,”
he noted. “It’s not easy.”
Asked about potential projects PKU is currently looking at for the open
technology platform, Chen cited IC development tools for medical
instruments. He also mentioned German photonics technology that can be
used for applications for lighting and communication. He said China can
leverage U.S. technology for water filtering and waste water management
applications, and that “smart city” projects can be developed from the
use of advanced sensors to expand surveillance.
Chen has been on his roadshow meeting with regional government officials
and executives from local industries, whom he describes as very
cooperative. The goal is to match-make between local needs and
technologies from overseas. Chen, however, stressed, “The most important
of all in this entrepreneurial process is a management team who are not
only bilingual, but bi-cultural. They’re the ones who can eventually
bring the technology to market.”