When Chinese Premier Li Keqiang dropped by Xu Dandan’s 3W Coffee spot in May, it was not just for a vanilla cappuccino but a real taste of what life is like for start-ups in the country’s technological hub. The high-profile visit to Zhongguancun in the national capital was seen as a gesture of support for China’s ambitions for innovation and entrepreneurship. China’s leaders are promoting innovation in an attempt to reverse a slowdown in the economy and to promote restructuring. While the premier’s visit was certainly a boost for 3W, Xu also sees hard days ahead as competition grows among makerspaces – many of them run by inexperienced and unprofessional players. Established in 2011, 3W Coffee was China’s first crowdfunded start-up cafe and has since evolved into a makerspace and meeting place for new firms and investors. Makerspaces are workshops for internet start-up entrepreneurs and 3W is one of the most successful in Beijing. “The premier wanted to get a comprehensive and real picture of how start-ups were made, and that’s why he picked 3W,” Xu said. Xu said officials from the premier’s office visited Zhongguancun a couple of times in the weeks before the visit to sound out 3W and other start-up cafes. He said Li was glad to see so many young people at 3W who embraced hopes and dreams. “I told the premier that a makerspace is not a just a physical place that provides printers, a pantry, Wi-fi and an assistant, but offers professional services to help start-ups grow quickly,” Xu said. “I also expressed my worries about a bubble forming from fierce competition,” he said. The State Council, China’s cabinet, issued a guideline in March with specific measures to help makerspaces get up and running, including simplified procedures and subsidies for rent and broadband. Before his visit in May, Li also pledged to issue policies to support start-ups. Xu told the premier that start-ups might benefit from a larger supply of makerspaces because it would bring down costs, but the competition might also result in “bad money driving out good”. If start-ups could enjoy free or low-cost services from unprofessional makerspaces, no one would be willing to invest in professional services that really could help the new companies, Xu said. Started with seed investment from about 180 investors, 3W Coffee has become one of the most influential makerspaces in Zhongguancun. One of its successful incubations was Lagou, a technology industry recruitment website Xu founded two years ago. “I was a bit surprised that the premier was so concerned about employment, and he thought that an internet company was so powerful it could help a million people find jobs in just two years,” Xu said. Positioning itself as a platform to provide services to start-ups, 3W has expanded along with Lagou to provide marketing and communications services and head-hunting for start-ups. 3W’s marketing segments and its incubator seed fund were profitable, subsidising the loss-making incubator business, Xu said. The company has operations in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.