Chinese researchers given more leeway to become entrepreneurs

New recommendations offer flexibility to university employees who want to create start-ups

February 15, 2020
Source: Reuters

China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security has published new guidelines to encourage researchers employed at universities or other state institutions to try their hand at entrepreneurship.

One proposal would allow researchers to work part-time on start-ups while keeping their institutional positions and some portion of benefits, according to a state media report. Another option is for researchers to work full-time on a new business for three to six years. Institutions themselves are encouraged to recommend talented staff for business-related projects, and to support innovative or mobile work policies.

Chinese universities, which rank highly in terms of industry income and technology transfer, are seen as important engines in the country’s development. According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Tsinghua University and Zhejiang University are among the world’s top performers for attracting industry income. Other leading institutions also do well in this category, such as Peking University and the University of Science and Technology of China.

Xiaozhang Zhu, an associate professor at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC), told THE that the new measure built on a 2015 policy by the Ministry of Science and Technology to encourage entrepreneurship in universities and research institutions. “The current policy further protects the rights and interests” of those researchers, while offering more detailed guidelines, he said.

The new guidelines would definitely help, Professor Zhu continued, because “researchers will be more confident in exploring new business opportunities”. This was particularly important given an “overall weakening funding environment”, he added.

Professor Zhu, founder of Kunchen Technology, is himself an academic turned entrepreneur. He said four linked areas were essential to building a technology company: academic research; technology research and development; product development; and business. “Three of these four ‘links’ require researchers to step down [from full-time academic work] and engage with customers, investors and the market,” he said, adding that it was necessary that such start-ups maintain what he called “technical leadership”.

The larger goal, Professor Zhu said, was to translate more university research into products with “direct market value”.

Wei Zhang, associate director of the National Entrepreneurship Research Center at Tsinghua, told THE that this was a “positive measure” and could “encourage researchers to some extent”. However, many universities and institutions had already been actively exploring entrepreneurship opportunities before this directive, he said.

Chinese researchers wanting to enter the business world faced multiple challenges, Dr Zhang said. These include finding market opportunities; sourcing funding to turn technology into usable products; and forming good management teams. In addition, they had to work out intellectual property rights, and thrash out the balance of benefits and risks with their home institutions, he said.

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Researchers in China encouraged to become entrepreneurs

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Reader's comments (2)

If confirmed by official sources, this statement is a clear admission by the Chinese government that free enterprise does a better job than socialism in encouraging high technology startups. Is there an "APPLE" in China's future?
If confirmed by official sources, this statement is a clear admission by the Chinese government that free enterprise does a better job than socialism in encouraging high technology startups. Is there an "APPLE" in China's future?

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