Alumnus-established enterprise fighting at the front-line against COVID-19
Chris Edwards | 03/29/2020

As a young research-oriented university, Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) has encouraged its faculty to explore an entrepreneurial path. Their innovative scientific achievements can be transformed into technology that benefits society in a variety of ways. It also inspires the rest of the SUSTech community to aspire to greater heights.

One such person is Zhi ZHANG, part of the inaugural intake of students at SUSTech in 2011. His name appeared with that of Associate Professor Dazhi SUN from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The two of them developed the anti-fog disinfectant wipes that received such praise when they were donated to the Second Affiliated Hospital of SUSTech (Shenzhen Third People’s Hospital) and Hubei Province. They also developed the anti-fog alcohol spray that could be sprayed onto other products.

Their work on developing a new product that helped front-line medical workers in the fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) attracted significant attention for Dazhi SUN. However, attention must also be paid to his protégé, Zhi ZHANG.

Zhi ZHANG was born in 1995 in Liaoning Province. He was the first student to join SUSTech in March 2011, and on graduation, he established Shenzhen Nanke New Materials Technology with Associate Professor Dazhi SUN. The company was the first of nearly fifty university-founded enterprises that have been founded thus far. Zhi ZHANG is the executive president of the company.

Zhi ZHANG has formed a deep and meaningful relationship with SUSTech. He was the first student, one of the first alumni, he founded one of the first companies to be founded from his studies here, and it operates from the SUSTech campus. All of these factors are the glue that binds him to SUSTech.

How he came to choose SUSTech:

As a high school student, many of his classmates opted for more traditional and established universities across mainland China. Zhi ZHANG decided to head to the newly founded SUSTech with his outstanding scores. He found that SUSTech’s philosophy and strong faculty were key reasons for him to go all the way south.

He reminisced on his high school experience, as he had a similar life to his classmates. However, unlike those he studied with, he did not know what he wanted to study, so the opportunity to choose his major later in life was attractive. The ability to communicate with leaders of their academic fields to get a better idea of the discipline helped Zhi ZHANG decide that SUSTech would provide him with the opportunities he craved.

SUSTech has not let Zhi ZHANG down on his arrival. The faculty always made themselves available to students to discuss a wide range of topics, both in and out of their specialty. They also helped the student body with different opportunities. SUSTech was and still is standing on the shoulders of giants as it looked towards the future.

After two years of study, Zhi ZHANG found his direction, entering the Department of Chemistry and studying under Associate Professor Dazhi SUN. At this point, the seeds of a business were laid in Zhi ZHANG’s heart.

“I wanted to see my research results applied in real life. It is something I wanted to achieve when I first started to do experiments. I knew that I wanted to start a business because otherwise, I would only be researching a small part of the industrial production chain.”

Associate Professor Dazhi SUN was Zhi ZHANG’s professional mentor and guided Zhi through the first stages of his research on lubricant additives. Zhi talked to Dazhi about the desire to industrialize his research, to which Dazhi connected him to a recent Ph.D. graduate from Texas A&M. That cooperation meant that many ideas could be discussed freely, knowing that there would be complete support to consider ideas, regardless of how odd or childish they may be at first instance.

Support of SUSTech

This confidence was not just from his mentor but flowed throughout SUSTech. The founding of Shenzhen Nanke New Materials Technology was a challenge, as he had never established a company before, and Zhi had many questions. SUSTech sent someone from the Asset Management department to help him handle the challenging issues that are required in establishing a company, before providing hard support by way of office and research space on campus.

The research and development of high-performance new materials is highly challenging while finding the appropriate industrial application an added challenge. It did not prevent Zhi ZHANG from finding solutions to his problems, persevering in his application of the SUSTech spirit.

The first challenge for Zhi was making materials in the laboratory at a commercially viable level. He knew that developing cutting-edge technology would be fundamental to making the company competitive. Every technological breakthrough has been the result of the cooperative relationship between Zhi ZHANG and Dazhi SUN, with the anti-fog disinfectant wipes being a perfect example of their collaborations.

Development of anti-fog products for COVID-19 fight

Zhi ZHANG’s chemistry background helped him consider broader applications for his products. When he saw front-line medical workers with goggles filled with fog, he considered which of the company’s existing products could assist the thousands of staff fighting against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic. However, the range of products did not meet the standards for medical products and required reformulation.

Zhi ZHANG spoke to Dazhi SUN about his idea, before Dazhi returned to campus to start working on the new formulation. Zhi followed just days later, with their team working day and night to develop new products suitable for the medical industry.

Dazhi SUN and Zhi ZHANG worked tirelessly to create technical improvements. Zhi ZHANG led the commercial applications team which concentrated on issues like safety and stain prevention. The two of them barely slept in two days, but they completed their R&D in three days. February 17 saw the donation of 100 barrels of anti-fog disinfectant wipes to the Second Affiliated Hospital of SUSTech (Shenzhen Third People’s Hospital). Later in February, a secondary donation of 6000 barrels of anti-fog disinfectant wipes and 20,000 bottles of anti-fog spray was sent to Hubei Province.

Entrepreneurial challenges

Zhi ZHANG has had the support of many at SUSTech. However, the lack of business management training combined with his youth, has set him many challenges. He has held almost every possible position within the company, sometimes all at the same time. Zhi ZHANG had to learn a lot of ephemeral knowledge from a vast array of industries, which helped him adjust to the entrepreneurial life.

The biggest challenge for him was convincing investors that he could be trusted. At first, investors would only trust someone with a Ph.D. or felt that his youth indicated a lack of experience. It did not discourage Zhi ZHANG, as he continued to prove his strength in entrepreneurial competitions while relying on his resources. His dedication is what drove the increase in resources and trust from outside investors.

After five years, his entrepreneurial career is growing in leaps and bounds. The company focuses on industrial engineering, health care, and energy-saving & emissions reduction. As their research provides for a wider variety of products, there will almost certainly be products that cross different industrial chains. It will see individual products working together to be greater than the sum of the individual parts.

As a SUSTech alumnus, Zhi ZHANG has a final message for SUSTech students. “It is critical that you define your goals, whether they are short-term or long-term goals. Once you set your goals, work hard to reach them. As you persevere in your quest towards achieving your goals, you will become more efficient, and setbacks will strengthen your will.”

2020, 03-29
By Chris Edwards

From the Series

Success at SUSTech

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Translated and Adapted By SUSTech Newshub

Proofread ByXia Yingying

Photo ByZhang Zhi

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