When Shen Chongfei left China 20 years ago to study for a physics doctorate in the United States, the Silicon Valley was considered the world hub of innovation and technology.
Today, the drive for innovative technologies has shifted to China, along with Shen himself. The company he founded, Magnity Electronics Co, specializes in infrared imaging systems used in areas such as cyber physical system and industrial automation as well as smart city applications.
The technology he developed uses thermal perception in image recognition, rendering it more accurate in darkness or in adverse weather conditions like fog and haze.
Magnity, founded in 2008 in Caohejing High-Tech Park in Shanghai, began with 15 million yuan ($2.3 million) in financing and four technology experts.
Within six years, the company broke even and attracted an additional 35 million yuan investment. The investors included venture capital companies eager to finance promising startups.
Success stories like Shen's are the pride of a nation striving to make its mark on evolutionary trends of the 21st century. They also highlight how many Chinese entrepreneurs who went to the US seeking their fortunes are now finding their best chance of success back home.
According to a US report released in late 2014, the US proportion of global research and development fell from 37 percent to 30 percent in the two years to 2012. China's percentage, meanwhile, jumped from just 2.2 percent in 2000 to 14.5 percent in 2011.
Money, of course, follows talent. The report showed that 31 percent of Chinese undergraduates held degrees in engineering, while in the US, the figure was only 5 percent.
"Graduates majoring in software development and material sciences hired from Shanghai Jiao Tong and Zhejiang University are quite professional in application and innovation," Shen told Shanghai Daily. In the Silicon Valley, it was hard to find the right partners for a niche field because researchers were focusing on their own independent innovation.
Shen's team, which now numbers 30, has developed thermal imaging cameras for industrial and commercial use, unlike in the past when they were used only by the military. His independent research has drastically reduced the cost of such devices. Previously night vision devices for the US military may cost more than US$100,000, but Shen's products for industrial applications in China cost below US$776.
Beginning this year, Shen's company has managed to undercut the prices of competitors such as FLIR Systems, the world's largest thermal imaging camera producer.
The Chinese government is placing great emphasis on creativity at home. This month, 14 model districts of startup incubators have been approved across China.
Magnity owns seven patents for thermal imaging and packaging technologies. It has been invited to participate in the China (Shanghai) International Technology Fair this week as an example of how smaller, innovative companies can develop their potential and find success.
The theme of the fair, to be held from Thursday to Saturday, is "Innovation boosts technology development." The fair adopted the theme from remarks made by Premier Li Keqiang at an executive meeting of the State Council in March, when he urged governmental bodies to do more to nurture innovative startup companies.
"I was right to come back to China," Shen said of the current environment. There are incentives to support innovation here.
"In the Silicon Valley, intense competition squeezes profits and research time. China eases both. We have been able to position ourselves to compete on an equal footing with global competitors."
Lin Zhuo would agree with that. He works for a company called Alien Technology, a world innovator in radio frequency identification.
Cyber Physical System helped Wal-Mart, an Alien customer, to save over US$8 billion annually with a rapid-speed scanner that can read hundreds of items with track tags in under one second.
In December 2014, Chinese technology service provider Rui Zhang Technology Co merged with Alien in a 30 million yuan deal. It helped Alien anchor in the Chinese market through its ties with over 1,500 institutional customers and more than 300 brokers working in system integration.
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