How makerspaces are nurturing the next wave of Chinese innovators

Updated: 2015-06-29 06:12

By Ma Danning(

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How makerspaces are nurturing the next wave of Chinese innovators

Shen Mengmin serves at Cheku Cafe on Wednesday, while its waiters and workers were out for a trip. Having been immersed at Cheku for two years, he has become friends with the staff. Photo provided to

Shen Mengmin, 33, a former excavator salesman from Central China's Henan province, came to Beijing in 2013 hoping to create an app that links second-hand excavators with buyers online. He turned to Garage Cafe, or "Cheku Cafe" in Chinese, one of the most active incubators for grassroot innovators in the capital, located on the second floor of a hotel at Zhongguancun Innovation Street in Beijing.

"I stepped into Cheku without knowing anything about developing an app," he said. For 18 months he immersed himself there brainstorming with others. During tough times he slept in public bath for 38 yuan ($6) a night to save money.

Later, he received a 1.5 million yuan investment, and found a programmer who made his dream product come true. The app has already been downloaded 30,000 times on Android market and the programmer is now a core member of his team.

Shen is not alone. Thousands of individual innovators who have no resources to create a product or start their own business are achieving their goals and turning themselves into formidable innovators, thanks to bustling makerspaces like Cheku cafe.

"Cheku is bringing in ordinary people without formal education, technology or money, and empowering them to do something that they want to do. This is especially important in a country where the innovation is largely confined to big companies, or elites," said Li Yan, a Cheku manager.

The cafe was founded in 2011 by Su Di, an investor who was having a hard time finding suitable start-ups to invest in. The cafe's name is drawn from US companies such as Amazon and Google who got their start in garages.

It is open to everyone, and after buying a single cup of coffee customers can spend a whole day there, with electrical outlets, Wi-Fi connection, and basic office equipment, including printers and copiers, provided free. Humming with activity, IT moguls, successful entrepreneurs and investors are invited to share their ideas here.

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