Feature: A smart guitar's trip of innovation, globalization

Source: Xinhua| 2017-04-28 17:30:35|Editor: Tian Shaohui
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by Xinhua writers Zhu Wanjun, Zhao Hui

BEIJING, April 28 (Xinhua) -- Zhang Bohan used to strolled over to the Haidian Book City in northwest Beijing in 2005. The cultural landmark, one of the largest bookstores in the Chinese capital, was the ideal destination for the then 15-year-old guitar-lover to buy CDs.

At that time, it seemed impossible for him to predict that the old building at the center of Zhongguancun industrial zone would be transformed into a nationwide incubator for entrepreneurship and innovation.

The Zhongguancun Inno Way company, which is headquartered in the Haidian Book City area, is now a new landmark of innovation with various well-known incubators, such as Garage Cafe, Kr Space and Legend Star.

As "a platform of incubators," the Inno Way has met with great success in the past three years, serving as a bridge for both Chinese and international start-ups, markets and investment.

Three years ago, with the invention of a smart guitar, Zhang started a business, Popumusic, after dropping out of the University of California, San Diego.

In the beginning, even his parents tried to talk him out of the idea. Yet nothing could change his mind.

Many of his friends had given up playing guitar without even really trying, because they found it too hard to learn. "Why not develop an easy-to-play smart guitar?" he thought.

His confidence and courage were stimulated by the government's encouragement for mass entrepreneurship and innovation in the country.

Vigorous efforts were made in China to implement the innovation-driven development strategy, such as the promulgation of the Outline of the National Strategy of Innovation-Driven Development and the launch of programs for major science, technology and innovation projects toward 2030.

In May 2016, the "poputar" (a smart guitar) launched its first crowd-funding through E-commerce and received rave reviews. In one month, 4,000 guitars were sold with more than 3 million yuan (435,600 U.S. dollars) raised. Six months later, Zhang's other product, the "populele" (a smart ukulele), also succeeded in its crowd-funding with 6,000 sold out in 10 hours.

"The hot sale of the 'poputar' and 'populele' has expanded the traditional guitar consumer market," said Li Wei, the company's market director.

In the first quarter of this year, the company bagged two of the top three international production design awards -- the iF Design Award in February and the Red Dot Design Award in March.

As one of the innovation enterprises hatched in the Zhongguancun Inno Way, PopuMusic's success has taken advantage of the current wave of innovation and entrepreneurship in China.

"This is a down-to-earth and inclusive platform," Zhang said. "It provides start-ups with great support for building up teams, solving technique and finance problems. It gave me more confidence to face all the difficulties at the very beginning."

In the opinion of Yao Hongbo, chairman of the Zhongguancun Inno Way's operating company, Beijing Haizhikechuang Technology Service, the ongoing wave of business start-ups in China is distinguished from the former wave in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"We used to produce pants and now we make aircraft -- you can see the huge difference," he said.

China is trying to transform and upgrade from a "manufacturing country" to an "intellectual manufacturing country," where innovation is the most important "catalyst."

PopuMusic has also been looking at international cooperation. Since last month, the company has been carrying out the first crowd-funding for the "populele" in the United States, with a target amount of 500,000 dollars.

The company is considering the possibility of producing guitars in South Asia and has been keeping in touch with an Italian manufacturer on the possibility of using mechanical arms to replace part of human labor in the production.

Zhang has an even bolder idea. He plans to build a social platform for music-lovers in the United States to promote self-learning and smart-learning of instruments throughout the world.

Chinese innovative enterprises, like PopuMusic, are looking forward to expanding into overseas markets, while foreign start-ups are seeking better development in China. Both share the same idea of making full use of global resources to innovate.

So far, Inno Way and other incubators have collaborated with 31 organizations from more than 10 countries in innovative exchanges, cross-border joint incubation programs and other cooperative projects. A total of 194 overseas returnees and foreign start-ups have taken root in this place.

Inno Way has held a global innovation roadshow called "Demo the world" annually since 2015 to attract innovation start-ups from all over the world. Some of the winning projects have become permanent fixtures in Zhongguancun, obtained financing from Chinese enterprises and become potential acquisition targets of international companies like Apple. Enditem