Shenzhen Hub Innovates To Survive

Huaqiang North rides out e-commerce challenge by integrating resources

Wang Laobao is a survivor who thrived. Once a vendor selling electronic products in Shenzhen's Huaqiang North, he became chairman of e-commerce platform

He succeeded, though, at a time when many other businessmen in the area were struggling to find a niche.

"From internationalization to digitalization, I always made changes quickly according to the market," he said.

Known as the country's biggest trading hub for electronic components and devices, Huaqiang North has seen rapid growth over the past decades.

According to local media reports, it ranked as the country's top market in scale and sales of electronic products in 2008. The development has largely been based on selling low-price copycat products-regardless of intellectual property rights.

However, the emergence of e-commerce in recent years has dealt a heavy blow to traders in the area, where hundreds or thousands of bricks-and-mortar businesses are located. It is now striving to transform and upgrade through innovation.

Experts and business leaders say there are large gaps in the international market for businesses in Huaqiang North to explore, but they need to innovate in a way that can give full play to their advantages.

Instead of following the US and Europe's steps to develop high-end products, they can integrate existing resources to satisfy the demand of customers from developing countries, said Qu Jian, vice-president of the China Development Institute, a Shenzhen-based think tank.

"Integration of resources is a form of innovation. Enterprises in Huaqiang North can make great achievements in Indian or African markets through this way. The key is to develop products that meet true demand from those countries and regions," he told Huaqiang North Transformation and Upgrading International Summit Forum held in Shenzhen in November.

In recent years, many enterprises in Huaqiang North have tried to increase their presence in overseas markets. Now, they are also striving to bring international elements to the area as a way of promoting innovation.

Shenzhen Huaqiang Holdings Ltd is an example.

"We have been developing international markets in a wide range of fields," company president Li Shucheng said. For example, a theme park built by the company has already started operations in Iran. It has also exported its cartoon products to over 100 countries and regions.

A startup incubator-the Huaqiang North International Maker Center-was set up by the company with the aim of helping startups and innovators from across the world to turn their innovative ideas into reality.

"Successful transformation and upgrading of Huaqiang North not only requires businesses to 'go out', but also requires them to 'bring in' international resources," Li said.