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The 'road in the sky' that's paved with gold

By Zhu Lixin | China Daily | Updated: 2017-10-17 07:36

"At first the academician was skeptical of our strengths but he expressed satisfaction with my hand-drawn sketches," Men said. He spent five months building a 7.5-meter-wide, 120 kilogram drone, which could remain airborne for 24 hours at a time.

"Jiang called me a genius, which was a great encouragement to me," Men recalled.

Returning home

In 2012, he quit his job and returned to Huaibei, once one of China's largest coal production bases, to start his own business after being informed that the government was looking to transform its economy and had devised a number of favorable policies to support high-tech companies.

Some of Men's friends, including some from Beijing, followed him home to Huaibei. Six investors plowed more than 1 million yuan ($152,000) into the foundation of Tianlu - which literally means "the road in air" - with Men contributing 500,000 yuan.

"We received a warm welcome and firm support from the local government," he said.

The authorities offered the new company a 2,800-square-meter factory to use as a research and development center, a workshop and offices free of charge. Moreover, registration procedures were simplified and the government helped Men to obtain crucial bank loans.

Tianlu was founded in December 2012. Men was able to attract 15 former colleagues with share-incentive options, and the company now has 33 highly educated employees.

A year after it was established, Tianlu's first unmanned aircraft for civil use was bought by a company in Beijing.

The aircraft weighs 38 kilograms and is 3 meters in length and breadth. When carrying a full 14 liters of gasoline, it can fly for five hours at a speed of 300 kilometers per hour and at a height of 2,000 meters.

In 2014, a new 36,000-sq-m factory was put into use.

However, the development of new products is costly. In recent years, Men and the other shareholders have invested more than 30 million yuan in the company, which has registered capital of nearly 8 million yuan.

"Sometimes it was very hard to get money," Men said. The hardest time came in mid-2015, when Tianlu's executives agreed to forgo their salaries for six months to ensure the business kept running.

"Luckily, we then received funding of nearly 300 million yuan from the Huaibei government", he added.

The situation has now improved, and Tianlu generated sales revenue of more than 2 million yuan last year.

So far, the company has developed multiple types of drones, which have a broad scope of applications, including surveying and mapping, agriculture and disaster response, prompting artificial rainfall and even a number of military purposes.

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