Shenzhen – the spot for rapid prototyping
Shenzhen is the global hub for manufacturing and production. In this post we highlight three landing spots for Nordic hardware startups looking for opportunities within rapid prototyping and product optimization.
In 1980 Shenzhen became China’s first Special Economic Zone. Today, it’s the global powerhouse for electronics development and manufacturing.
Low cost prototyping
From the sprawling Foxconn Longhua Campus, where 250,000 employees assemble iPhones and Kindle-devices around the clock, to the famous Huaqiangbei electronic mega-market, where you can source any kind of component, this region invents, manufactures, finances, and ships more products than any location on earth.
For comparison, while a basic PCB (printed circuit board) might cost 20€ and a day or two to assemble in Europe, the equivalent can be made in 20 minutes for less than 1€ in Shenzhen.
A 3D-printer isn’t enough
However, many early stage startups find it hard to navigate through the maze of startup support mechanisms available in Shenzhen. Often, bare-bones offices with a couple of 3D printers market themselves as accelerators, even though they hardly offer any services to companies.
Add to this, differences in business culture and fears of IPR theft, startups often find themselves left in the dust over large companies with more time and resources to navigate the pitfalls. As always with Asia, finding the right partner is crucial for success.
Three landing spots to start with
Below, we outline three landing spots that early-stage Nordic companies considering Shenzhen as a point for prototyping and manufacturing.
“When people come to China, they typically lose 2-4 weeks simply acclimating,” says Henk Werner, one of the four co-founder’s of Troublemaker.
This makerspace-cum- startup hub founded by 4 European expats, including a Norwegian and Swede, is building out one of the most comprehensive early-stage landing programs for Shenzhen.
Alongside a comprehensive product development platform that helps people or companies prototype, manufacture, and market hardware products, they are developing an online training course for companies to learn what to expect before they even land in China, to make sure they can hit the ground running.
Many startups may have already heard of Hax, a competitive program which bills itself as the first and largest hardware accelerator.
HAX invests in 45 hardware startups each year and supports them in every way possible: prototyping, industrial design, supply chain management, and so on. The program is structured into 2 stages, with only the first stage taking place in Shenzhen.
During this stage, companies will be taken through as many prototype iterations as possible, after which companies are taken to San Francisco, to build traction and raise follow-up investment. Startup apply for the program via their online portal, and if the application is interesting, will be invited for further interviews.
nHack is an investor and accelerator specializing in bringing Nordic companies into China. Their academy in Shenzhen, focused on hardware startups, guide companies through the right local partnerships and manufacturing centers to get their products off the ground and into global markets.
Like HAX, nHack is selective in its portfolio companies, who typically receive between $25-100k in exchange for 7-10% equity, and are charged a small fee for a 3-5 month accelerator program. To apply for joining the next cohort, companies can submit a simple application on their website.
Alongside their main activities, nHack partners often travel to the Nordics to educate startup about opportunities in China, so we recommend following them on LinkedIn to see when they will be speaking near you.