Turning ideas into physical prototypes or products is a challenge that many wannabe entrepreneurs face. Lack of facilities and absence of peer engagement has prevented many a youngster from chasing his dream.
It is this situation that the so-called makerspaces aim to address.
Serving as community workshops, the makerspaces provide fabrication lab space and technical support, helping designers, creators and entrepreneurs turn their vision of a new product into reality.
Having taken off in the US and Europe, such facilities and initiatives are also taking root in Asia, including China.
In 2011, Maker Space Beijing was established in Zhongguancun in the Chinese capital with support from the local government.
The entity has so far provided assistance to about 40,000 people. Encouraged by the response, it has expanded to other Chinese cities including Shenzhen, Shanghai, Tianjin and Qingdao.
And now it has launched Maker Space in Hong Kong.
Maker Space Hong Kong was kicked off recently to promote a culture that encourages people share their knowledge and learn from others.
“I am looking forward to seeing the maker culture build up in Hong Kong, which is a highly commercialized city,” Maureen Wu, assistant managing director of Maker Space Beijing and Founding Partner of TenPlus Fund, told EJ Insight in an interview.
Maker Space Hong Kong will not only bring in technical support for the city’s inventors, it can also rope in strategic investors that can help the makers commercialize their products.
On Aug. 19 and 20, Maker Space Hong Kong and Cyberport organized the first China Maker Summit in Hong Kong. The idea of organizing the event came about following a meeting in Beijing between the two parties several months ago.
“We want to promote the maker culture in Hong Kong, helping local startups create some products that can have commercial value,” said David Chung, chief technology officer of Hong Kong Cyberport Management Co. Ltd.
“We hope the makers can commercialize their ideas, instead of creating products and taking them home.”
Apart from providing physical tools and technical support to inventors, makerspaces can also help nurture a “maker culture”.
“Maker culture originated from the garage culture in Silicon Valley as engineers in technology firms were developing their prototype products in garages,” Wu said. “Before their products can be commercialized, the makers need guidance from different institutions.”
Success will depend on people’s “ability to share knowledge and learn from others”, she said.
At the moment, about one-third of the 40,000 users of Maker Space Beijing and its branches are seeking concrete business ventures while the remaining are doing their work more as a hobby, she said.
“Makers are more from idea to prototype while entrepreneurs are more from prototype to working demos and to mass production,” says Joanna Wei, founder of Maker Space Beijing.
“Makers are very important to the whole entrepreneurship community as they have to make something from zero to one,” she said.
Maker Space will introduce inventors to some well-established industrial companies and see whether the latter are interested in putting in some strategic investment, Wei said.
To reduce its reliance on government subsidies over the long run, Maker Space Beijing hopes to generate revenue from some startup investments.
In January this year, Wu and some partners founded TenPlus Fund, a venture capital fund for very early stage investment opportunities. The fund has so far invested a combined 150 million yuan (US$23.57 million) in 10 projects, which are mainly related to smart device and internet businesses.
Makerspaces in the US
While the concept of makerspace is blooming in China, similar services in the United States are very mature and mainly provided by non-profit organizations, instead of the government.
Artisan’s Asylum, a non-profit design & fabrication center, was set up in 2010 to empower individuals to give form to their ideas. About 9,000 people have so far used its services.
Located at Somerville, Massachusetts, it currently has about 300 people working in its makerspace, which was transformed from an old factory. It is self-sustainable with rental income and donations.
“About 30 to 40 people in our space are full-time makers,” said Jimmie Rodgers, founder of Artisan’s Asylum. “Having a space that is opening collaboratively allows people to learn at a very rapid pace.”
The organization provides technical support and mechanical tools to its makers, but does not provide any funds, Rodgers said.
To enhance its profile in the Asian region, Artisan’s Asylum is seeking to establish a partnership with Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Jeff Pao wrote this article.
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