Onward! Software Accelerator Goes Hard
“Onward!”, is the phrase that Cyril Ebersweiler, founder of the mentor-driven startup accelerator, Chinaccelerator, usually ends his emails with, and he’s definitely following his own adage by taking his two-year old startup accelerator to the next level by launching HAXLR8R, the first hardware-focused startup accelerator program, in Shenzhen, China. I got the chance to pick his brains and get his vision for HAXLR8R, the hardware space, and how the program fits into Chinaccelerator.
As a startup accelerator, Chinaccelerator focuses mainly on web-based and software startups, but since the program’s inception in 2010, it has also graduated two hardware based companies, Buz, and NextGoals. There are a whole different set of obstacles and needs that hardware startups need to tackle though, and for startups competing in the Chinese ecosystem, they’re up against local startups that work hard, fast, and ruthlessly– this is where HAXLR8R comes in.
HAXLR8R provides entrepreneurs with a platform to strive, and aims to deliver value to all parties involved.
HAXLR8R can be thought of as an extension of Chinaccelerator, and both aim to provide a comprehensive view of the business to both entrepreneurs and investors. Cyril assured me that Chinaccelerator will continue to run, and another batch of startups will be accepted next summer. He did also mentioned in brief that there will be a lot of exciting things coming for Chinaccelerator as well, but those things are under wraps at the moment. All in all, HAXLR8R and Chinaccelerator will fit in hand in hand, and many times creating innovative hardware requires an innovative software interface.
At the core of both Chinaccelerator and HAXLR8R, the focus is on making stuff that people need:
“What matters is: 1/ Build shit and 2/ Make it work 3/ See if you are successful 8 years from now =)”
HAXLR8R and the Maker Movement
The HAXLR8R program itself runs for 111 days, from March through June 2012, and is focused on providing hardware-focused startups with funding, mentoring, and support to ‘hack out’ their ideas into reality.
Though each founder will get a nice USD$6,000 investment, the core of the program isn’t about the funding. What’s even more exciting is the mentoring that will be received throughout the 111 days of hacking, which includes builders such as: Brad Feld (Foundry Group), Bill Liao (Xing/SOSventures), Bill Warner (AVID/Warner Research), Eric Pan (SeeedStudio), and Sean O’Sullivan (Mapinfo/Avego), among many others.
The main portion of the program is run in Shenzhen, China, where the startups will design and refine their products, meet with mentors, and learn how to scale their business in terms of manufacturing, supply chain management, and distribution. The final two weeks of the program then relocates to Silicon Valley for the big show: HAXLR8R Day!
Check out the space so far! [Pictures from SEEED]
Tip from Cyril: “Much crazyness coming (and hopefully dinosaurs)”
The vision behind HAXLR8R is essentially in support of the ‘maker’ movement that is spreading around the world. Just as hobbyist computer innovators of the 1970s disrupted business and society, there are predictions that today’s maker movement will spark a new industrial revolution through the manufacturing done by small firms and individuals made possible by open-hardware. Shared workshop communities and “hacker spaces” have been popping up, and Hackerspaces.org lists 400 of these spaces worldwide.
“This might as well be the innovation path China is looking for.”
HAXLR8R’s program is in partnership with SEEED, which provides a ‘maker’ environment in Shenzhen, and HAXLR8R startups will be able to leverage SEEED’s experience from product design, prototyping, and manufacturing, to sourcing, distribution, and packaging (and also get to share their ping pong table and the X-Box!). Cyril hopes the HAXLR8R program will encourage the maker movement in China, which is already in existence through the hackerspaces like Xinchejian in Shanghai, and Chaihuo in Shenzhen which has also gotten government attention and support. “This,” he mentions, “might as well be the innovation path China is looking for.”
Read on for the interview with Cyril Ebersweiler:
People think in general it is way harder to build a startup in the hardware space, compared to web or mobile stuff. They are totally right.
The [hardware] entrepreneur needs a very long term vision on what problem he is trying to solve and how a particular device will improve the solution to that problem. They have to be scrappy but have to spend money on equipment and parts. They have to think about manufacturing, supply chain, distribution and customer service, but also deliver a product which has value. They have to build a team or interact with all kinds of talents in mechanical, electrical, design or plastic engineering. On top of all that, they have to convince investors this is a viable business, while inventing new financing options in order to be cashflow positive.
And, of course, they have to make sure their product works great, is delivered on time (and at the right time), while being at the right price…
The holistic vision of such a venture is much more complex and there are even more ways, compared to a software startup, in which a hardware startup can fail. We want to help those entrepreneurs focus on what matters (product and customers!) by having them pick the brain of mentors who have, ‘been there / done that’, instead of reinventing the wheel constantly. And they are lucky, considering the great people surrounding the program (Brad Feld, Mitch Altman, Sean O’Sullivan…)
Why HAXLR8R, and how does it fit into Chinaccelerator?
The HAXLR8R name is a mix, obviously =), of: “Hacking”, “Hardware”, and “Accelerator”.
Overall, HAXLR8R, the first accelerator of its kind, is just expanding the mission of Chinaccelerator, which is to provide entrepreneurs with a platform to strive, and aiming at delivering value to all parties involved. What this means in this particular case, is providing that comprehensive view of the business to both entrepreneurs and investors, by gathering a group of professionals who are typically not nearby the most classic “startup bubble”, or at least not all at the same time.
The program is also clearly supporting the “maker movement”, as we believe this is an essential path to innovation and a new kind of education. And, to be honest, it’s also fun to play with!
Chinaccelerator will continue living its own life with a third batch coming up this summer, plenty of surprises and we are working hard so that we can take it to another level. Our mentors, startups and partners have been nothing short but awesome this year, and everybody is really eager to start again.
Overall, both programs will benefit from each other and offer new perspectives to everyone surrounding this effort. The hardware component is sometimes (often?) just a means to an end toward a software play…
What’s going on in Shenzhen in the hardware scene, and how is HAXLR8R partnering with SEEED?
What’s happening in hardware is broader than what’s happening in Shenzhen, with the maker movement spear heading innovation thanks to the arrival of open-source hardware (Think open source software, but for circuit boards, mechanicals, HDL code, schematics and embed software).
Shenzhen is a natural fit to support this revolution, where hardware tinkerers needs parts and support to continue building and inventing. This is where SEEED came from, as an open hardware facilitator which is working with more than 100+ countries. HAXLR8R startups will be able to leverage SEEED experience which covers sourcing, prototyping, assembling, manufacturing and supply chain management. And of course, share their ping pong table and the X-Box. This said, startups going through the program can do what they want when it comes down to open-source matters.
We also hope the program will give an extra kick to the maker movement in China, which is extremely interesting to watch. Xinchejian in Shanghai and Chaihuo in Shenzhen had a wonderful start, and the Chinese government is now looking at that space and supporting it. This might as well be the innovation path China is looking for.
The funding raising/demo leg of the program is in the Bay Area: Is HAXL8R for international startups only?
No, it aims at startups in China as well. It’s just that startups from various locations will get various benefits from the program. In the case of international startups for example, tackling the China angle of their business is always challenging. Chinese startups might find other source of value in the mentoring and the fundraising, assuming they already know their way in manufacturing something in China…
What should we look out for in the near future?
I can already tell that we have applicants from 8 different countries, which shows we are solving an international problem (and get us excited about the cultural experience ahead!). I am also amazed by the genius behind their products… Hardware really impacts our lives differently and in places you wouldn’t expect.
Check out the HAXLR8R site to learn more about the program. The application deadline is January 31, 2021. Now go and build stuff!