Writing/Reporters of Yangcheng Evening News Wu Jinrong Hang Ying
Zhang Zhiqian, 26, is a clinical medicine undergraduate student at Sun Yat-sen University School of Medicine, the founder and CEO of StateChange Bio, and a member of Forbes China's "30 Under 30" list for science and health care in 2021.
Zhang Zhiqian's parents were entrepreneurs of the early millennium generation, setting up a manufacturing company in Shandong that focused on bulk products such as rubber. Instead of choosing to inherit the family business, Zhang Zhiqian, who grew up immersed in an entrepreneurial atmosphere, enrolled in clinical medicine and decided to start a business from scratch in the field of synthetic biology while still studying. "The synthetic biotechnology I am developing will change traditional production methods, and in the future it will even replace the chemical industry where my father worked. Zhang Zhiqian said.
The "alternative" students of Zhongshan Medical College who don't want to be doctors but want to start their own business from scratch.
This year is Zhang Zhiqian's eighth year at Zhongshan Medical College and his second year of formal entrepreneurship. During the interview, Zhang jokingly told the reporter that he might be an "anomaly" among medical students. During his junior year, Zhang learned about synthetic biology by chance, which was still a concept that had not yet taken shape, but it aroused his great interest.
In 2016, Zhiqian Zhang formed the SYSU-MEDICINE team at Sun Yat-sen University and participated in the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM), an international scientific and technical competition in synthetic biology founded by MIT, and won the gold medal in the finals, the best therapeutic project award, and the best component design award, which made The seeds of synthetic biology were planted in the mind of this "doctor-to-be".
"I enrolled in Zhongshan Medical School with the initial intention of being a good doctor, but I also wanted to try a different path. I've always been interested in scientific research, and solving some application landing problems through scientific research is a road less traveled by medical students." In 2017, Zhang Zhiqian convinced his parents to fund support and rented a small lab off-campus to build a research and development team from scratch to tackle synthetic biotechnology, from the site and equipment to the personnel and consumables.
After breaking through the technical difficulties in the lab, the team continued to improve and adapt around cost and practical production issues. By the end of 2020, Zhiqian Zhang's team built a TidetronAltra platform-based strain library with both mass production and universality, realizing the mass production of various green and high-quality raw material products on a factory scale by biofermentation and other means, which can be applied to beauty and food.
"In the field of synthetic biology, there is a chasm from laboratory to factory scale mass production, and when I got some results from my research in the lab, I wanted to get them on the ground and see what role I could play in society." At that time, there were two options in front of him: one was to publish a paper or apply for a patent on the research results and then transfer them to others; the other was to go and set up a company to bring the research results to the ground.
It's a choice that is difficult for a current medical student, but easy for a researcher who is confident in his results. "I didn't really struggle with it too much, I felt excited about the opportunity to do something that could make a huge difference to society, more so than doing any other job, and I thought about it very clearly from the beginning of my decision to start my own business."
"Renegade" chose a new track to revolutionize his father's business.
Zhang Zhiqian's parents were perhaps the ones who were "torn". Zhang Zhiqian grew up in Shandong Province, where his father studied chemical engineering and later founded a manufacturing company specializing in rubber and other bulk products, but his parents' greatest expectation for him was not to inherit the family business. He grew up with excellent grades, and "my parents thought it would be good to be a doctor, and that it would be too hard to start a business, especially in manufacturing." Zhang Zhiqian said.
"At first, when I heard that I was going to study and start a business at the same time, my parents were a little angry." Zhang Zhiqian recalls with a smile that his parents may not have been surprised by his choice, but more likely felt helpless, "They felt that a clinician was the best choice and said that if they didn't become a doctor, they might as well come back and inherit the family business."
"But one thing that is valuable about them is that although they don't necessarily understand my choices and don't know much about synthetic biology as a field, they will support you when they find you are very determined to do something." In 2017, Zhang Zhiqian set up a synthetic biology lab off-campus, with his parents providing the "first bucket" of financial support. "My parents can be said to be my first 'angel investors' in my business."
In 2021, Zhiqian Zhang set up a team within six months and built an intelligent fermentation workshop in Shandong Province, and his founding company, State Creations, was officially put into operation. In Zhang Zhiqian's view, synthetic biotechnology has a bright future. "McKinsey Global Institute has issued a report saying that up to 60% of the global economy can be produced by biology, and what we are doing now is to replace the traditional chemical industry's production methods, and in the future, we may have to revolutionize the life of the chemical industry where my father is."
The most critical and challenging part of the project was to build a factory and bridge the "gap" from the lab to the factory. In this process, my parents became the most solid backing. "My parents are in the traditional chemical industry and don't know much about synthetic biology, but they are very experienced in building factories." Zhang Zhiqian told the reporter that his parents' biggest advice to him was "to build a factory with a rhythm".
"The factory can never be built, so the founder has to grasp the rhythm and build factories of different scales at different stages of development, and the construction cycle and output of the factory should be in line with the overall planning and expectations of the company." Therefore, at the beginning of the preparation of the factory, Zhang Zhiqian rented a 2,000-square-meter plant, but put into production line only accounted for 1/6-1/5 of it. and with the development of the enterprise, now the factory has mass production products small molecule peptides, as well as food sugar substitute erythritol and other 30 kinds of substances, the annual capacity of the factory has exceeded 10,000 tons.
Two generations of entrepreneurs have a spiritual legacy
After more than two years of entrepreneurship, Zhang Zhiqian admits that the difference between real entrepreneurship and imagination is still quite big. "The biggest difficulty is the unknown, especially young entrepreneurs lack of experience, how to find the right direction is the biggest challenge." Zhang Zhiqian said that although he had expectations at the beginning of the business, he still encountered shortcomings in management and operation, financing and other aspects of the real operation, and also stepped on some potholes.
Facing these unknowns, Zhang Zhiqian feels that he has the same courage as his father's entrepreneurs, which is a kind of inheritance between two generations of entrepreneurs. "Although my father and I started our business in different directions and faced different situations, the spirit and process of our entrepreneurship are actually similar. Every entrepreneur starts from a bunch of unknowns, but is not afraid of the unknown. Once a company loses its spirit of innovation and pioneering, it will become a company that is constantly consumed. Only by continuing to innovate and pioneer can we continue to have an impact on society, which is something both generations of entrepreneurs must do."
In the past year, StateChange Bio has raised four rounds of financing (now up to Series A+), accumulating over $100 million in financing, while achieving corporate profitability. Looking back on the rapid development in the past two years, Zhang Zhiqian unstintingly gave himself a score of 120, "I will set a small goal for myself at each stage, and at the moment, we actually exceed expectations at every step."
As the business gradually got on track, my parents became more agreeable and supportive of Zhang Zhiqian's choice. "Although they don't necessarily understand this new technology, they know I'm doing something groundbreaking, and I hope that in the future, StateCreative Bio will be a huge change to traditional businesses and can use groundbreaking and innovative technology to change traditional industries."