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Tsinghua x-lab Tour with Ms. Marjorie Yang

——By Hugo YAN, Tsinghua-MIT Global MBA Class of  2018

Ms. Marjorie Yang, an Advisory Board member to Tsinghua School of Economics and Management (SEM), visited x-lab during the afternoon of October 20 in conjunction with the 2016 SEM Advisory Board meeting. She held face-to-face exchanges with startup teams and shared her insights into corporate management and innovation with a select group of students who attended the talk. After a short tour led by Ms. Mao Donghui, Executive Director of x-lab, three startup teams introduced their projects and products to Ms. Yang.

Wang Xuan, founder of Bluepha, a technology company originating from x-lab, studied at Tsinghua University School of Life Science, and he shared his team’s commitment to research and development of low-cost biodegradable materials in an effort to solve problems such as long degradation periods of traditional packaging plastics. With Bluepha’s innovative materials, their plastic products could degrade completely and naturally within several months, and the materials are currently being used in plastic packages and agricultural mulch films. Ms. Yang showed great interest in the pitch and pointed out that the agricultural mulch films used in the Xinjiang cotton farms of her company, Esquel Group, would have solid potential for incorporating Bluepha’s products. Ms. Yang said Esquel uses a large amount of plastics for mulch films and packaging bags of shirts, and the company has also been looking for alternatives for packaging bags that are more eco-friendly.

Xiao Pengfei, founder of Beijing Neatrition Inc., from Tsinghua University Peking Union Medical College also presented his start-up business. Beijing Neatrition focuses on research and services in new materials, and its product of nano soil layer material provides an interrelated body of waterproof, inkproof and oilproof surfaces for materials. Xiao Pengfei explained that materials of Neatrition were simulated from the surface structure of the lotus leaf, enabling the surfaces of all objects to form a resistance to other substances, like the form of clean lotus leaves growing from a muddy pond. The material can be utilized in such fields as PV glass, glass curtain wall, textiles, and metals and has already been adopted to an extent in countries like Ukraine and Japan. The company is also collaborating with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) General Logistics Department. Ms. Yang was particularly interested to understand the impact of such products on cotton textiles. Xiao Pengfei said that Beijing Neatrition’s products, in contrast to general water-proofing agents, could actually enhance the hydrophobic characteristic of materials without changing other characteristics and noted that they hope to establish collaboration with Esquel Group.

The third team was Beijing T-cair Technology, which was incubated from x-lab and once visited and was positively received by Premier Li Keqiang under the recommendation of x-lab. In the presentation, Zhao Long, founder of Beijing T-cair Technology, shared his intelligent water washing air purification project with the audience. The company focuses on purification of air contamination and optimization of air comfort. Different from traditional filtration type air purifiers, however, its products utilize a method of simulating natural rain to purify haze or air contamination. Currently, the project has obtained the support of local governments in Beijing and Nanjing and obtained two rounds of seed and angel financing.

Afterwards, Ms. Yang, herself an entrepreneur engaging in corporate management and innovation for several decades, shared her views on the topic of innovation. She suggested that there are two major problems in today’s society, one being the combination of climate change and pollution, the other being the problem of the widening wealth gap. She took her own company, Esquel Group, as an example and explained the role of innovation in solving these two major problems in a seemingly traditional industry. In terms of sewage treatment, Ms. Yang said Esquel has the capacity to treat over ten thousand tons of industrial sewage every day and is cooperating with other companies to explore innovative technologies for more efficient sewage treatment to further reduce environmental hazards. In addition, she pointed out that the "reworking" phenomenon, where clothes are remade because of defects, in the textile and apparel industry could be prevented, and the generation of pollutants could therefore be reduced if more qualified products can be achieved through improved company management and other internal innovations. Ms. Yang noted that Esquel had a strong interest in the utilization of new materials for buttons. Using one European company producing shirt buttons with milk as an example, she pointed out that the utilization of new materials as degenerative raw materials in traditional industries could effectively avoid contamination.

In the textile industry, Ms. Yang said that the chemical dyeing method, although quick and cheap, is less environmentally friendly, while the traditional organic dyeing method, though more environmentally friendly, presents color constraints. Esquel is currently studying a new method to combine the advantages of the two dyeing methods.

On the issue of how technological innovation might affect employment, Ms. Yang shared her view that technological innovation should serve to improve the production capacities of employees rather than replace them. A win-win situation could be achieved from technological innovation, and the income of grass-roots workers could be not only preserved but improved, as long as technologies are utilized well. Citing the example of the Esquel Group’s garment factory, she noted that automation reduced manual input, but did not cause reduction in income or unemployment of workers. On the contrary, the income of workers in her company has been increasing, and those increases offer one way to help solve the problem of the widening wealth gap. Ms. Yang added that many workers did not know how to utilize technologies, without any sound technology foundation, but Esquel Group teaches employees systematic thinking and new technologies and encourages employees to participate in the application of new technologies.

After her speech, Ms. Yang continued engaging with the audience and conducted a quick Q&A session. At the end of the session, Ms. Mao Donghui expressed her gratitude to Ms. Yang for her visit and sharing, presented a commemorative plaque to Ms. Yang as a token of appreciation, and expressed a desire for continued collaboration with Esquel Group and Ms. Yang in the future.