Another of our articles providing a deep dive into what the Accelerator programme offers. The latest in the series offers a closer look at what the start-ups get out of the trip to Shenzhen. Applications for our next Accelerator programme are now open, apply via our F6S page.
The Chinese city of Shenzhen is the HQ for many well-known international high-tech companies. As a leading global technology hub it’s been labelled, by those in the know, as the Silicon Valley of Hardware. Shenzhen is also a major manufacturing centre in China and it’s proving to be fertile ground for hardware start-ups. Those are just some of the reasons why the CRL Accelerator includes a funded trip to the city as part of each programme.
Something else that Shenzhen is famous for is its disruptive innovators. On our most recent trip, our very own disruptive entrepreneurs met the best in Shenzhen manufacturing to see what they could learn.
The latest Accelerator cohort cover products including high-end stationery, protective clothing, wearable health-tech, and a toy to help relieve eczema itching. Between them, they were on a mission to find out more about their own particular manufacturing needs and looking for manufacturers and suppliers they could work with. We had a chat with them, while they were out there, to find out what they thought.
Odin Ardagh, from Brahman Design, makes beautifully designed luxury stationery. He said, “The trip’s highlighted the value of working with a manufacturing partner, and considering the process, early on in new product design, to make sure the finished product can be mass manufactured”. For him, and his team back in the UK, he wanted to get a better understanding of Chinese manufacturing and hoped to develop a personal relationship with their new manufacturing partner. “All-in-all,” he said, “we’re very pleased with the trip and what we’ve achieved.”
Yaagni Patel, whose product idea – Y-Heels – is an easily adaptable heel for shoes, said she found the trip a great experience. She’s in the early stages of product development, so for her it was interesting to see how shoes were actually made in a factory, and what she needed to pull together before approaching manufacturers. As part of her trip she spent a whole day with one of her contacts just visiting shoe factories. She said, “At one factory they showed me an adaptable heel that they were developing and how the mechanism connected to the shank that supports the shoe. That helped me develop my idea, and it solved the issue of support in the shoe and integrating the mechanism into it.”
Charlie Cadbury, from Moment Pebble – a mindfulness aid, went out to find a manufacturing partner. He said, “We think we’ve found that, along with a working knowledge of how to navigate the Chinese supply chain, we’re more confident with it now. I think we’re in a good shape to build any products we want to create”. He added that peer bonding on the trip was great too.
Dorota Grabkowska’s product idea is for high-tech sports body protection. She was looking for a foam factory that could provide the right materials and manufacturing processes for her protective vest. She said, “It was so great to be taken on a trip to Shenzhen. It’s a really good idea to do this – especially with businesses that have never been or made anything in China”. She added, “I need to spend more time on product development now and make sure the design is manufacturable”.
Lauren Bell, of Cosi Care, is developing a toy, which includes electronic cooling, to help children cope with the scratching caused by eczema. She said, “product-wise, I now understand why you need to keep things as simple as possible. And, it’s so important to prioritise functions and components because it can add a lot to your cost and logistics of making the product a success”. For her, the one big thing that she got out of the trip, was finding that the technology that she would need for the electronic cooling already existed. For her it was great to find out that, instead of making life difficult for herself by reinventing the wheel, she could incorporate the existing technology into her design.
Apart from an unmissable opportunity to visit China’s biggest hardware technology hub, one of the key things that most of the cohort members said they got out of the trip, was the chance to put their own design and product development, in context, and make sure that they would be suitable for manufacture. They all thought that the trip highlighted the importance of using agents, to bridge the culture and language gaps, when sourcing in China, and it was a great to meet the key people face-to-face.
Some returned with new manufacturing partners, or better relationships with existing ones that they’d previously only met remotely. Others valued the trip but were left wondering if China would be the best place to manufacture their products. At least one of the cohort came back with more than they bargained for (KTV microphone anyone..?!).
Now that they are back home, and a new year begins, we can look forward to hearing how things progress for them all.