Mingfeng Tang is a professor specialized in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the School of Business Administration in the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chengdu, China. She’s been a visiting professor at EM Strasbourg for several years. We asked her a few questions about her research field and her most recent studies.
Could you tell us more about your professional background?
I studied in China and but also in France which benefited me considerably regarding my career development. I have worked in different universities for nearly 20 years. Currently, I am a full-time professor as well as Director of Sino-French Innovation Research Center and Assistant Dean in charge of international affairs office at the School of Business Administration in the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, Chengdu, China.
Additionally, I’m a member of the European Industry and Commerce Chamber Southwest Chapter in China, an editorial advisor of the African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development and also an affiliated researcher to Bureau d'Economie Théorique et Appliquée (BETA), Université de Strasbourg, France.
You have been teaching "Innovation Management" for several years at EM Strasbourg. In your opinion, which challenges are companies currently facing regarding innovation?
Firstly, I would talk about environmental uncertainty. We have witnessed how external environmental uncertainty affects company innovation management. For example, the US government banned in 2019 the sale of US chips or other components to some Chinese telecommunications companies such as Huawei and its affiliates. In 2020, the Bureau of Industry and Security of U.S. Department of Commerce (BIS) also prevented Huawei from using the US-technology to design and make semiconductors. As a result, Huawei had to sell out its Honor Smart Phone business a few months later. However, these sanctions motivated Chinese firms to increase R&D expenditure to manufacture their own chips and semiconductors.
Secondly, I would say mutual trust between companies can be challenging. Open innovation is widely viewed as a factor affecting corporate innovation capability. The efficiency of open innovation largely depends on mutual trust between the actors engaged in this process. Without mutual trust, it would be very difficult for an innovative company to transfer technology or knowledge to another one. And knowledge transfer is a key factor for firms to strengthen their innovation capability.
Lastly, big data capability is also a major topic. We have been entering a digital technology-based era. Many digital companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Baidu and Tencent provide and use big data to create digital services or products to consumers. These large companies designed very effective systems to better big data collection, analytics and decision-making capabilities. However, small firms are often lacking financial, technological and human resources. So, it is a big challenge for them to adapt to this new digital environment but mastering big data capability is now becoming essential for their business success.
Can you tell us more about your project on collaborative dynamics between the university, government and industries to support "marginal" entrepreneurs?
I have been working on some research projects related to poverty elimination in China. In collaboration with universities, the chinese government has carried out large-scale poverty alleviation actions for specific groups such as women, children, the disabled and ethnic minorities and “marginal entrepreneurs”.
In July 2020, I led a team to interview some marginal entrepreneurs in one of the poorest areas in China - Fugong county, located in the Northwest of Yunan province. We learned that banks are providing loans to some of them without interest and mortgage. The local financial bureau is also giving subsidies to these entrepreneurs for offsetting some loan interest. The government made a lot of efforts as well to attract firms that will invest in building new infrastructures (roads, schools, hydropower station, etc.). Those improvements facilitated the transportation of marginal entrepreneurs’ products from Fugong to the other parts of China and improved the overall quality of life in this area.
Universities such as ours are dispatching professors to Fugong to teach entrepreneurship courses to local entrepreneurs and also purchase their products (green tea, black Tea, mushrooms, honeydew, etc.). Moreover, the government has sent experts from public research institutes to transfer breeding and culture technology to create new ventures. With all these measures, Fugong has alleviated poverty by the end of 2020.
EMSBS aims to reinforce research with societal impact. Do you have projects that are in line with this purpose?
I am currently doing some research projects about the entrepreneurial intention of rural areas in China. The urbanization and industrialization in emerging economies have greatly changed the dominant lifestyle, culture, and behavior of local citizens. These changes have an extremely significant impact on rural populations as agricultural land is reduced. In order to adapt to this new turbulent environment, residents in these regions are turning to entrepreneurial opportunities.
Due to the limited work opportunities for rural dwellers (e.g., a mismatch between high-tech job requirements and productivity potential), they may often be underemployed or totally unemployed. Many facing limited career opportunities might regard entrepreneurship as a crucial channel through which they can improve their social and economic lives. Since China has a large rural population, it makes sense to study entrepreneurial intention in this specific context.
What advice would you give to PhD students or young professors?
I would suggest them to be mindful about what research topic they are really interested in. It will serve as a guide to explore what is understudied or what needs to be studied. I would also advise them to learn data analytical skills which will be very helpful when they conduct empirical studies. Lastly, it would be quite useful for PhD students to take part in the research projects of their mentors, in order to gain new knowledge and experience by working directly with them.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!