Yesterday and today are free days that we had to work on our own stuff, but David organized an optional trip out to OCT (Overseas Chinese Town) which is kind of an artist's district in Shenzhen. The name comes from the company that created the area. It seems the people that made the area are overseas Chinese and wanted to create a place that reminded them of the artsy districts in other countries like the US. It's in a slightly wooded area and has a indie shops, book stores, restaurants, and coffee shop. It's a refreshing break from the hustle of Hua Qiang Pei, the electronics district here in Shenzhen.
David organized a talk with Cyril from HAXLR8R about what HAXLR8R is and how incubators work so the media lab designers could get a better idea about it. The talk was going to be held at the ChaiHuo Makerspace, a makerspace started in Shenzhen. I actually brought some things to work on for the Makerspace, mainly because I wanted to get an idea of what it's like to try and do projects at a hackerspace in Shenzhen.
The ChaiHuo Makerspace is in an area with a lot of indie shops that were really cool, especially one shop that specialized in artsy trinkets from Chinese pop culture. I would normally not pay much attention to a shop like that in the US, but I think it's fascinating that an indie pop culture shop opened up in China. I really didn't expect it and was happy to see that there's collections of free thinkers and geeky artists in Shenzhen.
The ChaiHuo Makerspace is a relatively new makerspace in the area and had just recently moved from a different place. I didn't get a chance to hear much about the previous location of the space, but I heard that it's founded and partly funded by Seeed Studio. One of the guys working in there was a product designer that had studed at Keio Media Lab in Tokyo so we were talking about the difference between the Japan and China design scenes and the product that he was working on. He was also saying that he might try out for the HAXLR8R program for the next class when he has the product more developed. After hearing this, I was more intrigued about what HAXLR8R was all about.
The rest of the designers went shopping around the area so I stayed behind at the makerspace and played around with the fur coat I just had made. I was talking with one of the designers who works on body sensor networks and she was thinking about adding GSR (galvanic skin response) sensors and LEDs to the coat to have it indicate changes in skin conductivity with color changes, ie: turning the fur coat into a lie detector. Since it was such a crazy idea, I decided that it was worth a shot. I installed some addressable RGB LED tape on the inside of the jacket and scrolled through a couple of colors to see how well it could pass color through the jacket.
Before I knew it, it was time for Cyril to give the HAXLR8R talk. We all gathered around the large table in the center of the space and Cyril started up his slide deck. The slide deck was mainly discussing the different incubators and VC conferences that he organizes in China and also what the startup scene was like in China. He also talked a bit about the first HAXLR8R class that graduated from the incubator and what the people were like. I recognized some of the products like the "Nomiku" sous vide device that was a hit on kickstarter.
The really interesting part of the talk came after the deck was finished though. At that time, the projector was shut off, we got in a tight circle around the table and just started talking about the various media lab projects that people were working on, venture backed startups, the startup scene, how the hardware scene was coming into play, different styles of entrepreneurship, and some of the more fucked up sides of the VC scene.
I normally don't have a high opinion of VC investors, mainly due to scars seeing how much damage could be done by bad VCs at venture backed startups that I had worked at previously. I was surprised by the conversation we had with Cyril because he was very honest with all the students on the good sides and bad sides of the venture scene, accepting venture capital, and how things worked on the VC side (ie: things are messed up for them as well). It was also interesting to hear his point of view on why he started HAXLR8R in Shenzhen, why Zach was involved, and how hardware is becoming a focus for VC investment. I still don't believe VC is really needed to do a startup, since all the services needed to create a product are relatively cheap these days. Nevertheless, it was interesting to hear the discussion about how things work, both on the entrepreneur side and the VC side from a VC point of view. After hearing Cyril's talk and his honesty about how things work behind the scenes, I have quite a bit of respect for him.
Next Saturday, Cyril organized the Generator conference which will have the HAXLR8R guys, us, Ian from Dangerous Prototypes, Seeed Studio, and others from around the area getting together to discuss HAXLR8R, incubators, hardware, and Shenzhen. It should be pretty interesting.