China Materialia and Shanghai Strategic Emerging Industries Foundation jointly hosted the 5th Innovation China conference in Shanghai on November 1st. The high-profile annual gathering was attended by Shanghai government officials in charge of technology and innovation, leading multi-national companies (BAT, BASF, Henkel, Samsung, GE, Solvay, SABIC) with venture investment in China, representatives of many startups and entrepreneurs working in new materials and technology development.

Vice-Director of Yangpou People’s Congress – Xiaotong Wu

Officials from the Shanghai Municipal Commission of Economy and Informatization and the Shanghai Yangpu District Government delivered welcome speeches. There is a strong investment push from the Chinese government in upscaling China’s manufacturing value chain from a low-cost labour based model of the last decade to an innovation-led, high-tech based value chain model.  Shanghai area has emerged to lead this transformation by attracting many Western-educated and home-grown Chinese entrepreneurs and scientists to work together and build a world-class innovation ecosystem, especially in the areas of digital industry, smart manufacturing and novel materials.

China Materialia Founding Partner Dr. Min Zhou delivered a keynote speech on investing in materials space. Drawing on her thirty years of experience studying, practicing and investing in materials science, Dr. Zhou shared her thoughts on what works for creating high-value materials companies, and what to avoid. She advised entrepreneurs to build leadership position in a growth industry, court high quality customers, focus on innovation pipeline and seek solid margins for products. She cautioned against investing too early before market acceptance, entering price war, chasing mature industry, or having unsustainable innovation. In comparing China vs the West, Dr. Zhou pointed out that China excels at speed while the West comparatively hold advantages in IP and product margins. She concluded with China Materialia’s founding principle and vision – combing China speed and western mindset. Dr. Zhou’s speech, delivered with ample data and abundant humor, was well accepted by the audience and many conference speakers echoed her message.

Managing Partner & CEO – Dr. Min Zhou

Ten leading start-up companies presented at the conference, including four keynote speeches in a flexible display module: US-based leading silver nanowire transparent conductive film company Cambrios, China-based world’s largest silver nanowire transparent conductive film maker Nuovofilm, China-based nano-silver-film company Zennithnano, Cambridge, UK based ultra-touch technology company Cambridge Touch Technologies. Two 3D-printing companies also gave keynote presentation: 3D-Fab claiming world’s fastest 3D-printing with photo-sensitive resins, and Zero-Carbon building hotel resorts with inflatable composite fabrics. Four other start-ups shared their entrepreneurial stories on panels.Innovation China conferences have evolved into a leading open innovation platform for multinational companies to connect with start-up companies in China.As the main sponsor for this year’s event, British American Tobacco (BAT) delivered three keynote speeches, covering BAT’s strategic vision in transforming tobacco by delighting consumers in multiple product categories, and its significant investment in tobacco harm reduction science and technology. Further more, BAT shared its priority areas for open innovation technology scouting in China, to the delight of entrepreneurs in audience.

Besides BAT, several other multinational companies presented at the conference. Henkel Venture introduced its venture investment strategies and gave examples of its investment. Head of Transformational Technology Cabot Microelectronics Dr. KC Wu presented opportunities and challenges in semiconductor materials. BASF Venture and SABIC venture discussed their perspectives on investing in materials companies and investing in China at a panel discussion.

As part of the conference, China Materialia organised speed technology matching (or dating) event, where local startups were able to have face-to-face pitching to the multi-national companies during a 20 min session.  The multinational companies came away excited about the companies they met and collaboration opportunities presented.

Ed Forsdike, Group Head of Strategic Science and Technology, who leads the BAT venture fund explains: “Our early experience in China’s fast-growing innovation ecosystem through China Materialia has exceeded our expectation.  We are well on-course to build new technology partnerships that would otherwise escape our radar screen and we have reasons to be confident that they will prove to be very useful to enhance and accelerate our innovation”.

The conference attendees were impressed by the quality of start-ups, excited by the enthusiasm of multinational companies to conduct more open innovation in China, and encouraged by the belief of venture capitalists that China is among the best place to invest in the materials space.  Innovation China series of conferences bridge the East and West, connect technology and finance, and create open innovation dialogues to really make Chinese speed plus western mindset possible.