HAXLR8R offers start-ups chance to ‘build’ next big thing

9 Dec 2011

Hardware start-ups are being offered a unique chance to join the 111-day HAXLR8R accelerator programme starting in March in Shenzhen, China, where they will be mentored by entrepreneurs like Bill Liao, Brad Feld and Bill Warner, have their prototype designed and built in China and at the end present their creation to the world’s top venture capitalists in Silicon Valley.

HAXLR8R, which will run from March through to June 2012, with a first stop in Shenzhen, is an accelerator programme aimed at hardware-focused start-ups from all over the world. The aim is to select the concepts with the best chance of success, build the prototype and hopefully get backing to bring it to the global mass market.

The programme is open to companies all over the world, and Irish start-ups are being urged to apply.

One graduate of the programme, Buz, a tablet-computer maker led by an Irish management team, has already succeeded in bringing its tablet-computer technology aimed at retailers to market in the US.

Mentors on the programme include Brad Feld (Foundry Group), Bill Liao (XING/SOSventures) and Bill Warner (AVID/Warner Research).

The HAXLR8R programme was created by Cyril Ebersweiler (Chinaccelerator), Eric Pan (SeedStudio) and RTÉ’s latest ‘dragon’ on Dragons’ Den, Sean O’Sullivan (MapInfo/Avego).

HAXLR8R is supported and led by SOSventures, which has already begun supporting start-ups in China via its Chinaccelerator programme. Chinaccelerator, the first mentorship-driven seed-funding programme in China, incubated the first international TechCrunch Disrupt winner Orderwithme.

The next revolution

According to Ebersweiler, a new trend sweeping the technology world is the concept of ‘open hardware’, which in a similar fashion to what open source did to software will change forever the scope of mass-market goods.

“As an investor, this is the next revolution,” Ebersweiler explained.

“Open hardware is about sourcing devices and code at the same time. This has already led to the creation of not only the world’s first ‘open hardware’ printers, but also ‘open hardware’ quadrocopters.”

In the same way as with open-source software, creators can build on top of a basic concept to perfect it and bring it to the mass market without fear of IP, patent or copyright lawsuits.

“Places like Shenzhen in China provide creators all over the world the opportunity to build and design products for mass consumption.”

Ebersweiler has a point. You only have to look at the back of an Apple iPod or iPhone to see the words ‘Designed in California. Assembled in China’ to get his drift.

Last week, Siliconrepublic.com spoke with Liam Casey, Ireland’s ‘Mr China’, of PCH International, who has built a US$400m global manufacturing business by utilising the capabilities of regions like Shenzhen to bring products to market for a variety of top global technology brands.

However, according to Ebersweiler, the revolution that open-source software inspired in technology is about to be visited again by a revolution in open hardware.

He said that the programme is open for companies all over the world to apply. “Our plan is to help 10 start-ups via our HAXLR8R perfect their product, develop a holistic view of the whole process and gain ideas and experience from being in Shenzhen.”

The complexities of manufacturing a product and bringing it to global distribution aren’t lost on the investment community and according to Ebersweiler that’s what makes hardware a tougher sell for start-ups.

But you can’t ignore it. Designing and making compelling hardware is at the heart of what the technology industry is all about and the success of Apple’s iOS devices, Microsoft’s Kinect motion controller and Jack Dorsey’s (of Twitter) Square mobile payments adapter show we’re still only at the dawn of the age of invention and human achievement.

That’s why the HAXLR8R programme is very much of its time.

Q&A with Cyril Ebersweiler of Chinaccelerator

It’s an 111-day accelerator programme based in China, what kind of start-ups are you hoping to mentor and how will it prepare them to focus on the burgeoning Chinese market, as well as the global market?

The programme is aimed at ‘foreign’ hardware start-ups, as in ‘non-Chinese’, if that makes sense. Chinese start-ups are welcome but we think there is a bigger value for worldwide start-ups to crack the Shenzhen world and be effective at building their products.

The end of the programme will be in the (San Francisco) Bay area, where start-ups will meet with investors.

I suspect their market will be either global or US-centric, but if we can help on the China-side of distribution, we will, of course.

What kind of things will they learn in the course of the accelerator – also, in terms of its approach, how does it differ from the well-known Silicon Valley programmes, like Y Combinator, etc?

HAXLR8R is the first programme of its kind and aims way farther than YC model, by providing an entire ‘maker’ environment in Shenzhen, hands-on help and servicing and equipment, along with a broader spectrum of disciplines inherent to hardware start-ups (product design, packaging, invention, manufacturing, sourcing, distribution, supply chain, financing, etc …)

How vital is it that start-ups today include China in their business plans?

It is not at all vital, for those interested in the China market, we run another programme called ‘Chinaccelerator’, which is the first mentorship-driven, seed-funding programme in the country, part of the TechStars network, and it already produced great companies, such as OrderWithMe (winner of TechCrunch Disrupt and in the news just yesterday).

What technologies are likely to thrive in that region and therefore globally in the coming years?

Solar and electrical … anything around energy. We are focusing on different industry on our side, and different scale.

Ultimately the start-up will go to Silicon Valley with well-honed pitches and technologies.

What will they have that will set them apart?

A physical product and a holistic understanding about how their business works. Ultimately, they will have received pre-orders, figured out financing possibilities and will be able to face investors by telling them “we solved the China-side of the product (manufacturing, etc), now let’s focus on sales and value-added services.”

·        HAXLR8R runs from March to June 2012. Ten start-ups will be selected and applications are open until the end of January. To learn more go to the website.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years