Labor-intensive manufacturing is burdened by rising costs and shrinking global demand. Real estate is losing its steam. The energy sector is battered by falling prices overseas and a strong desire to cut emissions at home.
At a time when the traditional strengths of the Chinese economy are challenged by uncertainties, Premier Li Keqiang’s administration has identified and pinned high hopes on public entrepreneurship and innovation as the next driving force.
In a latest move, Li Keqiang visited Inno Way, or the innovation street, on May 7 to talk to startup businesspeople, and his trip is widely seen as a gesture to reaffirm the government’s support for entrepreneurship and innovation.
At 3W Cafe, a meeting place for budding entrepreneurs and angel investors, he said that the public knows the market best. “The governments should respect and learn from the public, which is the essence of public innovation,” he said.
According to a plan released by the State Council, China will have fostered a group of entrepreneurial platforms and angel investment institutions by 2020, as part of a national program to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.
The plan was released in March to develop more makerspaces and nurture the spirit of entrepreneurship in China. It also called for more efficient and targeted financing and projects to develop talent and expertise to support startup businesses, often described as “makers” in China.
When the Premier visited a makerspace in Shenzhen in January, few Chinese had ever heard of the word, or chuangke in Chinese.
Three months after his visit, the word, in actual fact a byword for creativity, was written into Li’s annual government work report and made headlines nationwide.
It refers to people who create through modern technology, including digital fabrication and 3-D printing. In a broader context, the spirit of makers is the essence of entrepreneurship.
As the economic slowdown has continued into 2015 after hitting the quarter-century low of 7.4 percent, Li promised to lower hurdles for entrepreneurs with more seed funding and cheaper rents at the start of his third year in office. He believes innovation is an effective way to adjust income distribution and ensure young people, especially those from poor families, have equal access to opportunities for upward mobility.
According to the Ministry of Science and Technology, China has 1,600 incubators for technology firms, in addition to 115 science parks on campus. More than 80,000 businesses are based in these incubators, employing 1.7 million people.
Qian Yingyi, dean of the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University who once took part in an economic seminar held by the Premier, said he could feel the heartfelt support for grassroots entrepreneurs from Li’s speech.