Over the following weeks, the Green Industry Platform will feature success stories of female entrepreneurs and business women in the framework of its Women in Green Industry Chapter, in collaboration with the Knowledge Gateway for Women’s Economic Empowerment. The stories are expected to support other women entrepreneurs in their decision-making processes to overcome challenges and grow their businesses.
Chairwoman and CEO, Yiyuan Environmental Group
Member of the Technical Expert Committee, Green Industry Platform
Location of business: Shanghai, China
Number of staff: 37
Description of business: Produces and markets toilets whose patented technology can save up to 83% of water compared with conventional 6-litre models
The Story behind Her Business Plan
“The idea of building a business was not my original intention. I just wanted to promote the concept and products in support of my father. But it was a hard lesson to learn. What supported me throughout the hardest time was my hope that both the concept and the technology of water-saving can be promoted worldwide through products like ours, so that our Earth will become a better place.
I grew up in a farming family in a village near the city of Longyan in the south-western part of China. I was obliged to leave school early and support my father by taking work in a succession of tough factory jobs. Later on, I taught myself English and finance and then qualified as a professional teacher. In 2007, I quit my job, sold my apartment and set off for Shanghai to try and promote my father’s water-saving toilet technology. It was a bold move. While my husband supported my decision, my father, who had designed the technology in the first place and whose dream I wanted to help fulfill, was angry that I quit teaching.
In Shanghai, I struggled at first, lacking capital, connections and support – all of them indispensable for starting a business in a new, competitive environment. With no money for advertising, I took on the work of promotion by myself: I talked to people on buses, and displayed my products on the roadside; anywhere I could attract people’s attention. With no money to employ workers, I delivered toilets and installed them for customers by myself. Looking back, I faced numerous obstacles, including a lack of business experience, meagre start-up capital and an abundance of indifference and skepticism.
In 2009, I got a break when I discovered an industrial park for energy-saving and environmental protection businesses in the city’s Hongkou district and relocated my business there. When I first set up my office in the industrial park, the building was still under construction. But the worst thing was my limited capital meant I couldn’t afford the rent. I had to convince the industrial park managers to let me install my toilets in their buildings without cost and, in return, I didn’t have to pay rent for half a year. But this deal paved the road for my business’s stability and eventual growth. In 2011, I was the first Chinese to win the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award for the Asia-Pacific region. Before the Awards, people would look down on my small company, a dot in the vast land of China. Afterwards, they showed much more respect. The Award inspired me to re-think my business and expand into other water-saving products. I could never have made it without the coaching, which was part of the prize. Taking part in an award is a once-in-a-life-time experience that everyone should try.
With women’s role in the economic sphere increasing, the female force in entrepreneurship can’t be ignored anymore. I believe our society should work together to create a better environment for women’s entrepreneurship. To achieve this, women’s burden inside the family should be reduced. Men should be encouraged to share in-house responsibilities, such as caring for the elderly, children and housework, thus giving women more time and space to use their talents. Also, more women’s entrepreneurship funds should be established, so as to provide direct financial support. Finally, policies in favour of female entrepreneurship should be implemented. We should set up training institutes and hubs for female entrepreneurs to share their knowledge and experiences. Lastly, governments and organizations, like the United Nations, should work together with the media to create a generally more encouraging atmosphere for female entrepreneurship.”
Chen Chunhong’s recommendations for other women setting up their green industry business:
1. “Select projects good for the sustainable development of society, and explore a practical manufacturing and distribution model. Leverage policies and promote the sustainable development of the project.”
2. “Through participating in relevant organizations or competitions, get more publicity for the project so that more people can know it and promote it.”
Read Chunhong Chen’s post on The Knowledge Gateway for Women’s Economic Empowerment here.
For feedback, additional information or to nominate women who have an interest in being profiled, contact us here.