Creating a city of innovation
Xiao Liangyong, a 73-year-old retired professor from Xi'an-based Xidian University, has made a name as an entrepreneur. Xiao didn't start his own business until he retired from the university at the age of 65. The company he purchased was a small company and heavily indebted. Yet over the last eight years, his company had been listed in Hong Kong, with total assets worth 470 million yuan. The company has developed into a leading antenna manufacturer in China.
As a university professor, Xiao devoted a lot of research to developing antenna for military use. Although his research has yielded rich fruit, he felt he was circumscribed in his research. "At university, I had to apply for research projects to get expenses and for one project, the biggest budget was only 200,000 yuan. Moreover, my research was strictly confined to military antenna," Xiao said.
On the eve of his retirement in 1999, Xiao read the life story on Lan Jen Chu, the China-born professor of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a pioneer in highly sophisticated radar antenna systems, Chu started his own company in the 1930s, which developed into a world leading antenna manufacturer and the major supplier of the American navy after 40 years of development.
The story inspired Xiao to start a business in order to turn his research toward domestic use. He seized a business opportunity created by the boom of the PHS (Personal Handy-phone System) handset market in China. Since China did not have a manufacturer of PHS base station antenna, Chinese telecom operators had to import a large amount of expensive base station antenna from abroad.
Xiao retired in October 1999 and bought a heavily indebted communication equipment company. The company soon developed its own product, Haitian antenna. Due to its high quality and good quality-price ratio, Haitian antenna took a more than 90 percent market share of the domestic base station antenna market over a spell of three months. Haitian's major clients include some leading international telecom equipment suppliers, such as Lucent, Motorola and Huawei.
Recalling the growth of his business, Xiao is grateful for help from the Xi'an National Hi-tech Industrial Development Zone (XHDZ), where his company is located. "Shortly after the founding of the company, we badly needed capital for research and development. We went to banks for loans, but they refused our request since our company was small and weak. Under such circumstances, XHDZ helped us to apply for government funds totaling dozens of millions, which was vital for our later development," said Xiao.
As a national development zone for fostering research and development capacity, XHDZ was founded in Xi'an's southern suburb in 1991. Due to the superb innovation-encouraging atmosphere in the zone, a large number of hi-tech companies spring up every day. According to Jing Junhai, Director of the administration committee, an average of four hi-tech companies are founded in the development zone every day; one company possesses an average of at least two patents; and over 70 percent of patents of the companies in the zone have been transformed into products for the market. Some internationally advanced technologies, private branch exchange systems and visual studio technologies have been developed here.
China has a plan to build five industrial parks with international influence across the country, and the Xi'an National Hi-tech Industrial Development Zone is on the list. "We are facing a test of whether we can view the development of hi-tech industries with a global vision," Jing said.
"We hope that Xi'an will be able to gain international fame for being a city of innovation by 2015," said Xu Kewei, Director of the Xi'an Science and Technology Bureau. He said technological progress contributes to 49.7 percent of economic growth in Xi'an and this figure is expected to surpass 55 percent by 2010.