Title

The Start-Up Garage

Entrepreneurial Energy in Beijing’s Innovation Alley

  • The Zhongguancun neighborhood in Beijing is innovation central for the tech community, a mix of San Francisco’s South of Market and Silicon Valley. It is where tech entrepreneurs, funders, and business start-ups mix. In the past year, start-up incubators in Zhongguancun have produced more than 600 new teams, 350 of which have received financial investment totaling 1.75 billion yuan (U.S.$270 million), with each team on average receiving 5 million yuan (U.S.$770 thousand) apiece. (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
    The Zhongguancun neighborhood in Beijing is innovation central for the tech community, a mix of San Francisco’s South of Market and Silicon Valley. It is where tech entrepreneurs, funders, and business start-ups mix. In the past year, start-up incubators in Zhongguancun have produced more than 600 new teams, 350 of which have received financial investment totaling 1.75 billion yuan (U.S.$270 million), with each team on average receiving 5 million yuan (U.S.$770 thousand) apiece. (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
  • At The Garage Café in Zhongguancun, entrepreneurs need only to order one cup of coffee to gain access to an open-plan office workspace for an entire day. Wang Hongzhe, from Shandong province, revises his business plan at The Garage. Wang came to Zhongguancun with a business plan he spent over a year preparing. At The Garage he has found roommates, an investor relations agent, and project partners, but he has not yet found an investor. (Photo by Yan Cong)
    At The Garage Café in Zhongguancun, entrepreneurs need only to order one cup of coffee to gain access to an open-plan office workspace for an entire day. Wang Hongzhe, from Shandong province, revises his business plan at The Garage. Wang came to Zhongguancun with a business plan he spent over a year preparing. At The Garage he has found roommates, an investor relations agent, and project partners, but he has not yet found an investor. (Photo by Yan Cong)
  • Entrepreneur Shen Xu introduces an idea for his app during the daily pitch session the café puts on called “A Half-Hour at Noon.” For 30 minutes, entrepreneurs and investors have the chance to introduce or search for products, advertise for partners or employees, or even angle for investment. (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
    Entrepreneur Shen Xu introduces an idea for his app during the daily pitch session the café puts on called “A Half-Hour at Noon.” For 30 minutes, entrepreneurs and investors have the chance to introduce or search for products, advertise for partners or employees, or even angle for investment. (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
  • In the evening, Wang and his two roommates discuss their start-up projects. The three have rented simple accommodations in Guajiatun Village, where they split the 900-yuan (U.S.$140) monthly rent. The room is less than 215 square feet, just big enough for two beds with some space between them. This neighborhood is made up mostly of old-style houses and simple modular apartments like this one, but more importantly it is only a 20-minute walk from Zhongguancun. (Photo by Yan Cong)
    In the evening, Wang and his two roommates discuss their start-up projects. The three have rented simple accommodations in Guajiatun Village, where they split the 900-yuan (U.S.$140) monthly rent. The room is less than 215 square feet, just big enough for two beds with some space between them. This neighborhood is made up mostly of old-style houses and simple modular apartments like this one, but more importantly it is only a 20-minute walk from Zhongguancun. (Photo by Yan Cong)
  • Wang markets a cell phone app to people in the Changying district in Beijing. Wang has spent most of his savings on his own business. He looks online for part-time opportunities and saves money as best he can. In his free time, he often does local advertising work for other new companies, inviting passersby to scan QR codes for WeChat chat groups or to install and register on new apps. At the end of the day, he is paid according to his results.  (Photo by Yan Cong)
    Wang markets a cell phone app to people in the Changying district in Beijing. Wang has spent most of his savings on his own business. He looks online for part-time opportunities and saves money as best he can. In his free time, he often does local advertising work for other new companies, inviting passersby to scan QR codes for WeChat chat groups or to install and register on new apps. At the end of the day, he is paid according to his results. (Photo by Yan Cong)
  • Wang stands on the street advertising a new app. Those who install the app and register receive a small bag of rice as a gift. He makes five yuan (about 80 cents) for every new client. On his best days, he makes about U.S.$50. (Photo by Yan Cong)
    Wang stands on the street advertising a new app. Those who install the app and register receive a small bag of rice as a gift. He makes five yuan (about 80 cents) for every new client. On his best days, he makes about U.S.$50. (Photo by Yan Cong)
  • Ji Yu, from Henan province, eats a breakfast of leftovers from a meeting he had the previous day. He says he feels that at The Garage and in Zhongguancun generally, you can always meet a new person or learn something new. (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
    Ji Yu, from Henan province, eats a breakfast of leftovers from a meeting he had the previous day. He says he feels that at The Garage and in Zhongguancun generally, you can always meet a new person or learn something new. (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
  • A display of business cards collected by Ji over the course of an hour are splayed out on a table. He believes that knowing a lot of people will prove advantageous for his future.  (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
    A display of business cards collected by Ji over the course of an hour are splayed out on a table. He believes that knowing a lot of people will prove advantageous for his future. (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
  • When several high-ranking leaders visit the Zhongguancun Innovation Street, Ji finds his way into the group, pretending to be an orderly. He attends meetings, discussions, and meals with them. Finally, he makes his way back to The Garage carrying pictures of the leaders with their names written on them, which he proudly sends around to his friends. (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
    When several high-ranking leaders visit the Zhongguancun Innovation Street, Ji finds his way into the group, pretending to be an orderly. He attends meetings, discussions, and meals with them. Finally, he makes his way back to The Garage carrying pictures of the leaders with their names written on them, which he proudly sends around to his friends. (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
  • Wu Jianhui waves goodbye to a friend who has come to see him. Wu is a cartoonist who also works in the coffee business. He’s been at The Garage for over three years and is one of the “old guard.” He has accumulated a wealth of personal connections, and quite a few people come to him looking for connections to investors. (Photo by Yan Cong)
    Wu Jianhui waves goodbye to a friend who has come to see him. Wu is a cartoonist who also works in the coffee business. He’s been at The Garage for over three years and is one of the “old guard.” He has accumulated a wealth of personal connections, and quite a few people come to him looking for connections to investors. (Photo by Yan Cong)
  • Wu’s WeChat account has nearly ten thousand unread messages in it. Most are from entrepreneurship-themed chat rooms. (Photo by Yan Cong)
    Wu’s WeChat account has nearly ten thousand unread messages in it. Most are from entrepreneurship-themed chat rooms. (Photo by Yan Cong)
  • Huang Ruibo washes his feet in the bathroom at The Garage using the cleaning staff’s bottle of disinfectant. He says, “I don’t care about hardship. All I want is to get things done as fast as possible while I’m in Beijing.” (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
    Huang Ruibo washes his feet in the bathroom at The Garage using the cleaning staff’s bottle of disinfectant. He says, “I don’t care about hardship. All I want is to get things done as fast as possible while I’m in Beijing.” (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
  • Working at The Garage, Wu takes off his glasses to massage his eyes. One often sees grassroots entrepreneurs here pacing around and waiting; they think of The Garage not just as a space to work, but also as a platform on which to interact with other entrepreneurs, find partners, or find investors. (Photo by Yan Cong)
    Working at The Garage, Wu takes off his glasses to massage his eyes. One often sees grassroots entrepreneurs here pacing around and waiting; they think of The Garage not just as a space to work, but also as a platform on which to interact with other entrepreneurs, find partners, or find investors. (Photo by Yan Cong)
  • At 11:00 p.m., Huang is still working. He considers The Garage to be his home away from home in Beijing, even though he has never spent a penny here. (The cafe has apparently looked the other way rather than kick him out.) Huang, who comes from a part of Shanxi province where there are a lot of orchard farmers, hopes to build a platform that will help track the fluctuating price of apples for the farmers back home. (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
    At 11:00 p.m., Huang is still working. He considers The Garage to be his home away from home in Beijing, even though he has never spent a penny here. (The cafe has apparently looked the other way rather than kick him out.) Huang, who comes from a part of Shanxi province where there are a lot of orchard farmers, hopes to build a platform that will help track the fluctuating price of apples for the farmers back home. (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
  • The Garage Café is open 24 hours a day. In order to save money, Huang has essentially moved into the building, working in the coffee shop during the day and sleeping in the stairwell at night. For many of these grassroots entrepreneurs, the recent entrepreneurial craze has given them hope, even while the struggle to find investment has taught them practicality. How many of them will make it to the next stage, becoming CEOs and making their dreams come true? (Photo by Yuyang Liu)
    The Garage Café is open 24 hours a day. In order to save money, Huang has essentially moved into the building, working in the coffee shop during the day and sleeping in the stairwell at night. For many of these grassroots entrepreneurs, the recent entrepreneurial craze has given them hope, even while the struggle to find investment has taught them practicality. How many of them will make it to the next stage, becoming CEOs and making their dreams come true? (Photo by Yuyang Liu)

A decade ago, thousands of migrants flocked to the electronics markets in Beijing’s Zhongguancun neighborhood to sell their wares. Today, newly-minted entrepreneurs come searching for angel investors and business partners. A proposal, made by Premier Li Keqiang in a government work report from March of this year, that urged society to make “popular entrepreneurship and mass innovation” into the “two engines” of Chinese economic advancement has spurred a new wave of entrepreneurial energy in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. In June 2014, Zhongguancun’s Innovation Street officially opened for business, and it now plays host to over 4,000 business teams.