The Shenzhen factor: the supply chain that gives Chinese makers the edge

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China’s high-tech hub, Shenzhen, has become an integral part of the maker culture that is rapidly emerging in the city. The very same workforce and skills the manufacturers developed in producing cheap phones and tablets are now being used to help local innovators turn their ideas into prototypes in no time at all.

“Being so close to the supply chain allows anyone with a good idea to turn their prototypes into small-scale production runs,” says David Li, the Taiwan-born programmer and co-founder of the Shanghai makerspace, XinCheJian, the first makerspace in China.One of the companies that took early advantage of the strategic benefit of the electronics manufacturing industry in Shenzhen is Seeed Studios. Engineer and entrepreneur Pan Hao, opened Seeed Studios in 2008. Being at the intersection of industrial manufacturing and hackerspace culture, Seeed Studios helps makers source, design, produce and commercialize their ideas. Being close to manufacturers and suppliers in Shenzhen enables the company to source a wide range of items for hardware enthusiasts around the world. The company encourages entrepreneurs to pitch projects on-site and helps them to create quickly make prototypes and manufacture small orders. Seeed Studios even also provides crowdsourcing services.

“You no longer need to be an engineer to realize your invention and sell it on the market. We do that for you, right here in Shenzhen,” Pan told thatsmags.com.

Pan’s company has become one of the world’s biggest providers and manufacturers of technology for small-scale innovators, with annual revenue exceeding USD10 million. In 2014 alone, the company brought almost 500 projects to market.

“There is no supply chain like this anywhere else.”

Speaking to thatsmags, Cyril Ebersweiler, a venture capitalist based in Shenzhen said: “In Shenzhen you can have a new connected device made in three days. In the States you would need weeks.” Ebersweiler founded HAXLR8R (pronounced ‘Hackcelerator’) in 2011. His company offers mentorship-driven funding programs to foreign and Chinese start-ups. Companies entering HAXLR8R receive a grant of USD25,000 and get access to professional mentors from the tech community, before being invited to Shenzhen to work on their products.

“This is the only place we could do this,” Ebersweiler said. “Small companies here are willing to work with start-ups, and that opens a whole host of possibilities for ideas, concepts and manufacturing. Shenzhen is the new Silicon Valley for hardware – there’s no supply chain like this anywhere else.”