Nanfang Daily | Zhong Chao of Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology, CAS: “I believe there will be more “scientists + entrepreneurs” in the future.”

Three years ago, Zhong Chao, who had pursued his Ph.D. in the New York Bay Area, opted for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. Joining the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (referred to as "SIAT"), he not only continued his research but also became an entrepreneur. He co-founded a biotech company in the Guangming Science City's "upstairs-downstairs innovation and entrepreneurship complex" with his college classmates.

Today, Zhong Chao serves as the director of the Materials Synthetic Biology Center, Institute of Synthetic Biology, SIAT. Benefiting from the continuously improving innovation ecosystem in the Greater Bay Area, on one hand, his team's research is often published in top-tier journals; on the other hand, his company has grown steadily, having completed three rounds of financing. Products like mussel protein and heat-stable fibronectin began to hit the market earlier this year.




Nanfang Daily: What is "upstairs and downstairs innovation and entrepreneurship complex"? How can this model foster healthy development from research to business?


Zhong Chao: As the name implies, the "upstairs-downstairs" model involves conducting "0 to 1" research upstairs and gathering start-up incubators downstairs. For instance, PAM2L Biotechnologies, which we founded, moved into this complex in July 2021. The research team's lab is on the 7th floor, primarily focusing on discoveries "from 0 to 1", while the offices are on the 5th floor focusing on scale up "from 1 to N". The two teams work independently, but the research and entrepreneurial teams often "collide” with each other, significantly reducing the time from research to industrial application.

 Since its establishment, the company has grown rapidly. In August 2022, it "graduated" from the complex and moved to the Synthetic Biology Industrial Park, about 20 minutes away, where we set up a pilot workshop. In January this year, the company raised over 100 million yuan in the Pre-A round of financing.

Although the address of the company has changed, the mission of innovation upstairs and entrepreneurship downstairs remains. Since the establishment of the "Materials Synthetic Biology Center” by PAM2L Biotechnologies in partnership with SIAT, on one hand, we can share expensive large-scale equipment, and on the other hand, patents with commercial prospects can be transferred to the company for commercialization.


Nanfang Daily: How do you perceive the entire innovation ecosystem from the dual roles of a scientist and an entrepreneur?


Zhong Chao: Both scientific research and entrepreneurship emphasize innovation, but their focuses are different and they require different skill sets. Companies focus on whether innovative technologies can be implemented and more consideration is given to  market demands, costs, and users.

For instance, the rapid development of PAM2L Biotechnologies is attributed to the comprehensive innovation ecosystem. Across from the complex is the Shenzhen campus of Sun Yat-sen University, where many students come for internships. Students in the research team used to only witness and participate in innovation from within the "ivory tower.” This complex brings them closer to the industry and capital, offering a fresh approach to talent cultivation. Some students are eager to start their own businesses, and I believe we will see more "scientist + entrepreneurs" in the future, and there will be less barriers to translating research into applications.

Guangming Science City is the pilot start-up area and core area of the comprehensive national science center in the Greater Bay Area. This year, the world's first major synthetic biology research infrastructure set up by SIAT as the leading unit will partly be put into use. It will serve both research and industry, making research more efficient and reducing companies' R&D costs, especially in terms of time. PAM2L Biotechnologies is less than 30 minutes away from this large-scale facility of synthetic biology. With access to its resources, our company has only set up a few personalized devices in recent years.

The Greater Bay Area offers a rich soil for innovation, providing comprehensive safeguards for startups. Therefore, we are free of worries for the future and are full of confidence in the company's growth.