This is a guest post by Takumi Ishii, an intern of Kyoto-based hardware startup accelerator Makers Boot Camp. The accelerator holds the Monozukuri Hub Meetup event in Kyoto on a monthly basis.
Additionally, all photos in this article were taken by Kyoko Sunahiro, a wedding dress designer at Atelier 2du Monto.
See the original article in Japanese.
The Monozukuri Hub Meet Up was held for the 11th time on May 18th at MTRL Kyoto. This edition’s theme was “Online Platforms for Startups”.
As opposed to startups dealing with software, issues unique to hardware startups were raised. One of the major themes of this gathering was “partnership, not competition.” Additionally, actual entrepreneurs of hardware startups took to the podium to share their stories, adding a degree of realness to the event.
In order to solve the problem of mass production, which is akin to the “Valley of Death” for hardware startups, Makers Boot Camp recalled joining forces with Kyoto Shisaku to support the process startups must follow in mass-producing products. Makers Boot Camp has been collaborating with investors, start-ups and key institutions both in Japan and abroad, but concluded by emphasizing that there is a need to further strengthen this area.
Presenting hardware startup ecosystems by three gurus
Greg Fisher of Hardware Massive began his presentation by asking the question, “Are there any among you who are developing a product for mass production, or anyone planning to?”
He related that mass-production by hardware startups has many problems, and emphasized that they are aiming to solve them through partnerships, that is to say collaborations rather than competition. Fisher then took up the problem of the enormous cost of engineering and introduced what Hardware Massive is doing to create an environment where startups can overcome it.
Fisher redefined hardware startups as, “a startup whose goal is to put physical products into full-scale distribution.” With that in mind, Hardware Massive listed the following as its missions:
- Access to Resources
The company has branches around the world, with information on the branch, staff, and events available on their website. They also offer various resources including those about news and events, which shows that they have realized a global platform accessible to hardware startups.
Next to take the stage was Lifechair’s Karlos Ishac, who is also a graduate student at the University of Tsukuba. Lifechair is the second startup begun by Ishac and they develop a product to solve problems such as physical ailments caused by long-term use of smartphones, computers, and desk work, as well as the problem of productivity deterioration. The product features a function to improve the posture of users by checking their posture and directing them to the correct posture using vibrations.
Ishac recalled his interest in inventing since childhood and how he was managing an informal business by the age of 14. He looked for a job after graduating from Sydney University but in his home country of Australia the majority of opportunities were in agriculture and maritime affairs which did not interest him. That is when he came across Tsukuba University’s OMECHA program, and decided to make the leap to Japan, where he has indulged his entrepreneurial spirit by inventing various products, including a medical robot.
He continuously emphasizes to his current team members, “Do not stick to just one product.” He believes that maintaining flexibility in creating numerous products is an important point for hard tech startups to survive.
Kentaro Yamamoto of Nain, a Japanese startup, rounded out the first half of the gathering. After studying complex systems engineering at Hokkaido University, he gained experience working for the Pioneer Corporation planning and developing car navigation systems and related materials.
He related that, personally, it is extremely bothersome to have to pick up his smartphone every time he needs to check it leading him to develop APlay, an eyes-free internet device. The company is interested in audio that can cooperate with smartphones, and they are looking to mass produce a device that is wireless and capable of voice recognition.
“You should break free from your isolation, open up, and challenge the world!”
The gathering has two panel discussions.
In the first panel, Hardware Massive Founder Greg Fisher and Narimasa Makino, CEO of Makers Boot Camp, sitting down to relay their viewpoints on assisting hardware startups. In comparison to software startups, they elaborated on the difficulties faced by hardware startups, such as funding and networks, and talked mutually about the importance of online platforms. Fisher emphasized,
A lot of pitch and other events are taking place, but I wanted to create a continuous community, not just a one-time event, so I started Hardware Massive. I believe in collaboration, not competition, and greatly value an open attitude.
Currently, there are all sorts of online platforms flooding the market, but the open attitude of Hardware Massive seems to be indispensable for the future of hardware startups. In the end, Fisher had this message for Japanese startups:
You should break free from your isolation, open up, and challenge the world without fear of failing.
Prior to the second panel discussion, Atsuhiko Tomita of PLENGoer presented their miniature robot PLENCube.
I don’t believe technology will replace humans. I believe it will enrich our lives.”
He developed the assistant robot PLENCube that fits in the palm of a user’s hand and captures the important moments in their lives that they want to record and share. His team is looking to develop products that will make the lives of users more enjoyable.
Challleges for Hardware Startups
With that, the final panel discussion titled “Challenges for Hardware Startups” was delivered. Tomokazu Morisawa of The Deck, a co-working space in Osaka, facilitated, and Kentaro Yamamoto of Nain, Karlos Ishac of LifeChair, and Atsuhiko Tomita of PLENGoer talked about their startup efforts and future prospects. In this session, they also accepted questions from the audience using the service sli.do, which manages questions from online.
Upon Morisawa asking a question related to crowdfunding, PLENGoer’s Tomita had an innovative and very interesting response,
Although it is a great effort, there’s the danger that the team will become satisfied by the number of their supporters, which would interfere in future projects.
Following this, an audience member made the request, “Do you have any advice for what I should be doing while I’m still a student?” To which Lifechair’s Ishac, who is currently a student, replied, “You should get involved in the startup community as early as possible.” Regarding the question, “What are you doing to motivate your team?”
Nain’s Yamamoto had this unique answer,
Everyone on our team is lazy, so because of that we wanted to develop a product that is useful.
The panel discussion was especially interesting as there was a wide variety of opinions and the characteristics of each startup shone through. Wrapping up the second session and the end of the panel discussion, each startup stated what is necessary for their next step, what they need for financing and crowdfunding, as well as completing their final product.
Makino ended by remarking that they have created a significant hardware ecosystem, and he is determined to continue activities to support it, including meetups such as this. In the subsequent network sessions participants and presenters exchanged opinions and it became a place to talk about future projects and ideas in a relaxed atmosphere while drinking.
Translated by Amanda Imasaka
Edited by Masaru Ikeda