Yesterday Mobile Geeks attended a debut meetup event from new Taiwan based crowdfunding platform HWTrek. Created in collaboration with TMI Holding Corporation, a Taiwan based incubator that makes early stage investments with local talent trying to tackle global markets, HWTrek seeks to offer hardware entrepreneurs from around the world the chance to realize their ideas as eventual products with collaboration opportunities with key hardware manufacturers in Taiwan. The focus is very much on the Internet of Things and Digital Wearable Device, two areas where Taiwan’s OEM/ODM players are looking for innovative concepts.
The Innovation Tour
The HWTrek Innovation Tour kicked off this week in Taipei, with more than 30 startups and inventors invited to Taiwan to meet up with some of Taiwan’s most important hardware manufacturers with emphasis on pairing manufacturing experts with project leaders. The tour allows hardware creators and global startup organizations a chance to become better acquainted with the ecosystem of manufacturers and suppliers in Asia, specifically Taiwan and China. The tour consisted of two days in the North Taiwan area, followed by an optional three day extension to Beijing.
HWTrek itself is a new funding platform and community for hardware projects, co-founded by HWTrek CEO Lucas Wang. The inaugural Asia Innovation Tour takes 30 start up projects on a tour of Taiwan’s major hardware players, including Quanta, Qisda, Pronology, Wistron and Foxconn, plus supplier Jorjin Technology. Other stops on the tour include Smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi, e-commerce experts JD.com plus China’s biggest startup incubator, Innovation Works.
Whilst in Taiwan, the startup attendees are allowed exclusive insight into hardware manufacturing with a chance to view assembly lines inside the factory, seminars and meetings with key development experts, as well as a meet up session at the World Trade Center, Taipei where we got a chance to hear 3-4 minute pitches from all thirty invitees. The pitches included a broad range of product categories that loosely come under the umbrella of Internet Connected Devices; these included projects in the areas of auto, health, home automation, wearables, smartphone accessories, sports and fitness, children’s toys and even micro-agriculture.
Size, Scale and Perspective
Most of the startups were from either the US or Europe, several of whom had already achieved low volume product production, looking to find manufacturing partners that would allow them to scale up to the next level. Others were at a more nascent developmental stage, looking for prototype development and crowdfunding services.
After the meet up event at the World Trade Center, Taipei City, we had a chance to get some feedback from the startups themselves, and although the overall consensus was overwhelmingly positive, many had reservations about the size and scale of the manufacturing partners involved. One project leader I spoke to posed questions about whether a company of the scale of Foxconn, Quanta or Wistron would make a suitable manufacturing partner for comparatively small scale operation such as his own.
Several others we spoke to echoed these concerns, pondering if perhaps a major global OEM is the right place to start your first production run, or prototype batch. In terms of priority, where would a small startup stand in relation to other more vastly higher volume customers? It’s telling also that several startups we spoke to also planned to visit Shenzhen China at some point, despite perceived concerns regarding IP protection and quality control.
Taiwan Embraces Startup Creativity
The HWTek Innovation Tour was co-organised by ITRI (International Technology Research Institute), WI Harper Group and China’s largest VC firm, Innovation Works. Although the overall pitch from HWTrek is that the startups get network opportunities with billion-dollar technology giants, the counterpoint to that, is that these large OEMs and ODMs are also fiercely trying to gain the upper hand in terms of pure product design innovation and creativity. We know that Foxconn will launch its own$6.8 million dollar incubator program later this year, and it makes total sense that others will follow suit as they try improve their manufacturing abilities in the specific areas of wearables and Internet of Things.
The reciprocal nature of a relationship between manufacturing and any startup project is inherently one that needs time for trust to develop. As we mentioned, there are several perceived issues with Chinese manufacturing partners that are certainly less applicable in Taiwan. Taiwanese manufacturing retains considerable leadership in the area of hardware, on a global scale that also takes advantage of China’s economy of scale. One thing we can say with certainty is that Taiwan’s major hardware players face pressure from declining margins and flattened demand in the PC space.
The stalwarts of PC OEM manufacturing are now ready to bring about their own incubator models, helping to engage with inventors and small startups to leverage their own manufacturing prowess in a fiercely competitive industry where wearables and IoT devices could be the future. HWTrek is a pioneering example of Taiwan’s new found need to engage with the global startup community.
HWTrek Website: https://www.hwtrek.com/