Today was a lot of walking. We met up with a local event organizer for lunch in the hilly Mid Levels of Hong Kong — but the restaurant was a tight fit for 18 people (and more trickling in…) so a few of us decided to walk back to central station. Half way there we intercepted a couple others from our group and joined up with them. It was a long walk for lunch in a subway station but it was nice to see more of the center of the city, with all of its elevated pedestrian walkways.
On the way back we took the escalators through the city, which seems like a really neat way to commute. Elevated moving sidewalks, pretty futuristic you know? The video might be boring but you can see what it’s like, anyway.
We arrived at a very cool destination called PMQ: a mixed use historic building that’s a lot of fun to explore the balconies and shops to the mixture of pianists practicing or improvising on the public pianos.
There were some nice exhibits about its history: it was originally a government school (British Colonial government, that is) in the 19th century sitting right between a neighborhood full of western foreigners and a neighborhood full of Chinese. The road that runs through both neighborhoods is called “Hollywood Road” (so named before Hollywood, California existed) and this school brought people from both neighborhoods together to study. Chinese students enrolled in English and westerners enrolled in Chinese classics (OK now I’m just reading the wiki article 🙂
A video playing in an exhibit also covered the building’s brief stint as a family dormitory for policemen. A man being interviewed recalled that each of the balconies was a shared dining area for two families, and from one balcony and you could look around to see who was having dinner and what they were cooking, and that it was a festive atmosphere every night with families all eating together. I could picture it standing there, and it seems like a really good design for a family residence. However, it was abandoned in 2000 and since renovated into this big mix of start ups, art studios, and craft shops (I bet a few of these shops have Etsy stores, I’ll put it that way).
Eventually we met up with some guys at Brinc, an “internet of things accelerator” with an office on the top floor of the building. I learned what an accelerator does! I had always lumped them into the same category as shared work spaces and incubators, just as something mysterious where people spend a lot of other people’s money. But it made sense that there’s a lot of people with an idea that they want to bring to market, but without experience working with manufacturers they risk bankrupting themselves without ever getting a finished product out of a factory.
So these guys make their experience getting new technology made at existing factories available to newbies, as well as marketing and business consulting like “Does your product have any desirability to the consumer?”, “How does your product stack up against its competition”, you know, value proposition stuff. [Insert guy’s name when I find his business card again] told us a lot of engineers think they have a good product just because they made something and it works. They hadn’t really gone through the rest of the process of whether it’s marketable, or even manufacturable. So the accelerators work with these startups to make sure they have a good product before spending hundreds of thousands of dollars approaching factories.
Imagining a group of guys building something and thinking they could just kickstart it and then order 1,000 of their widgets made me wonder, do any of these teams even have a friend that went to business school? Did anyone raise these questions before they moved to San Francisco looking for investors? So I asked [guy from Brinc] if the teams that come to him are mixes of business people and tech people, and he confirmed that it’s not too often they find a team that already has a balance of expertise, so that’s why they often serve to connect these startups with whatever talent they’re missing.
This made me realize that CUCFabLab working with the business school at U of I is a really unique, very positive partnership if it can encourage tech folks to mingle with the business minded, just so that if either of them has a good idea, they have a wider perspective of what the process of bringing hardware to market entails.
I thought it was very interesting to learn that this Brinc accelerator would bring start up teams out to live in Hong Kong, with the idea that if you’re going to be paying thousands of dollars for consultants and so on, you better be paying people that work directly with the factories that will make your product. We heard stories of start ups that burn through millions of dollars of funds by hiring teams and lawyers and talent to start a business without even making it across the pacific to start building their thing.
Afterwards, most of the group went on to the MakerBay hackerspace but I was feeling drained of energy, tired of being wet and a little sick, so I made my way back to Kowloon in search of a good Ramen shop. Found “Butao” and got a very spicy pork belly ramen and had myself a good sinus-clearing cry.