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Glass Entrepreneur Happy to Be Home

Pub Date:18-02-28 08:36 Source:China Daily

For Pei Shiyou, this year's Lunar New Year's Eve was among the few he has spent with his extended family.

"It's one of the benefits of starting a business in my hometown," said Pei, who was born and raised in Hefei, Anhui province, and soon turn 60. His wish for the Year of the Dog is to see smart-glass - the product his team has been developing since 2016 - go into production.

Starting a business with an innovative research team, while also receiving government support, has given him a strong sense of pride, a sentiment he says he often lacked during his 25 years working in the United States, he said.

He was among China's first batch of students to travel to the US for postgraduate study after the program was resumed in the mid-1970s. Pei received his a doctorate in physics from Carnegie Mellon University in 1988.

He landed his first job at Amoco Corp and later moved to California, eventually becoming head of product research and development at KLA-Tencor, a global capital equipment company in Silicon Valley. Yet Pei said he still felt unfulfilled.

"It seemed there was an invisible ceiling for me when I pursued my career in the US. I felt like it was unlikely for me to achieve any higher sense of achievement or recognition."

At the same time, he has been traveling back and forth back across the Pacific for more than two decades.

"China was developing rapidly, and reform and opening-up were bringing people the kind of lives I could barely think about before I left the country," he said.

The fast-growing economy brought China enormous development and business opportunities, but it also brought certain problems. Pei noticed two: high energy consumption and pollution.

"I was clear in my mind that I wanted to do something that could help improve people's lives in my home country," he said.

He returned to China in 2007, and nine years later established a smart-glass company in Hefei with two other US-trained engineers.

The company's product is suitable for low-temperature, flexible smart-film manufacturing and is able to self-adjust its level of transparency based on temperature changes and sunlight conditions, according to Pei, who said it has the potential to reduce the need for air conditioning and make curtains obsolete.

Between 2007 and 2016, Pei lived and worked in several Chinese cities.

"What attracts me to Hefei is that it is easy to recruit tech talent here due to the city's rapid development in recent years, and also because it has several universities," he said.

Support from the local government has been one of the best attractions that convinced Pei to locate his company in the eastern Chinese city.

"Hefei has been providing good financial and policy support for new technology companies," he said.

In January last year, Hefei was approved as the site of a national-level science center, the second of its kind after an earlier one was built in Shanghai. The center, now under construction, will focus on areas including information technology, energy and health.

Pei's company was granted three years of rent-free factory space. He also said about a third of the company's financing came from local government loans and investment.

Pei said that after the smart glass goes into production this year, his next goal will be to make the price of the glass affordable for household use.


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