With the roar of the crowd at the Qube in Hong Kong’s Central district filling the air, the creators of the Lumos illuminated bike helmet walked up on stage for the third time in two hours. This time they weren’t pitching, but receiving the crown as the judges’ favorite startup company at the IoT Launch Summit in Hong Kong.
The Consumer IoT Launch Summit was the first of its kind for the city, a project of the relatively nascent Brinc accelerator located at the artsy startup hub PMQ in central Hong Kong.
“Our [Brinc’s] goal was to bring the first large-scale consumer IoT event to Hong Kong for attendees to hear insights from leading innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors from all over the world to identify potential business models and partnerships and monetize the latest consumer trends in connected devices, wearables and IoT enabled solutions,” co-founder and CEO Manav Gupta, told Geektime.
Hong Kong’s first and leading IoT accelerator
CEO Manav Gupta’s American accent only alludes to part of his upbringing. Born in India and after school years spent in the U.S., he lived for a time in Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and eventually China. He is the epitome of the nascent, cosmopolitan ecosystem in Hong Kong. When asked what led Brinc to put on Launch, he emphasized that the ecosystem is flourishing and a pitch plus conference was an easy decision for “pure ecosystem development.”
“We wanted to showcase Hong Kong as a leading platform for the latest innovative consumer IoT technologies and founders by creating an immersive experience for startups, entrepreneurs, investors, and ecosystem players to network and learn about new connected product business models.”
Brinc has a staff of 25 people accelerating its companies. “We’re very hands on,” Gupta told Geektime during a press tour of their headquarters. It’s the first and most advanced IoT accelerator in Hong Kong, located at the artsy new startup and culture hub, Police Married Quarter (PMQ) in the city’s central district.
They tried one mass class of companies but found it was impractical for consumer electronics. All those groups had very specific needs. They’ve changed their format to rolling admissions, taking up to two new companies per month and integrating them into the accelerator.
“It’s not about just signing them on and flipping the companies. This is a long haul game,” Gupta emphasized to us between pitches at LAUNCH. “We know that hardware is hard but building a sustainable IoT business is harder. We take equity stakes in the startups in our portfolio yet Brinc isn’t a typical accelerator as we’ve validated a platform approach to help founders not only get products to market, but build a foundation for a globally successful business.”
The best in show that didn’t take home a trophy was Nanoleaf, whose complete rethink of the lightbulb has already gotten them three successful Kickstarter campaigns and several thousand units on their way to backers.
A lot of crowdfund successes hit the stage, like fellow acceleratee and Berliner company Soundbrenner. Their design uses a wrist-wearable called Pulse to replace metronomes for musicians. It was too brilliant. All the band members can synchronize all their Pulses to be in tune with each other. Had it not been for the stiff competition and the fact they’re already in the Brinc accelerator, they probably should have taken the gold — or the tungsten judging by the design.
Like Soundbrenner, one of the key strategies the accelerator uses is crowdfunding. It has its financial and strategic advantages, the Brinc team tells Geektime.
“In 2015, our startups have raised more than $2M USD from pre-orders from early backers and $2M from co-investors,” says Gupta. “Crowdfunding is one of many ways to do market validation and like any validation model, has its share of pros and cons.”
Other incubatees include surfing wearable Glassy Zone (see the video above), cardiotech company Heartisans, luggage-locator Lantrn, smart alarm clock Kello, child wearables startup Kiddo, Aumeo Audeo, Indybo, Pilldrill, O2 Tech, 8Cups, Cordcruncher and Smart GPS Card.
Brinc got the chance to show off that portfolio and test drive new candidates for its program, all while mixing in some talks from Microsoft’s Director of Architecture Josh Holmes and Indiegogo Director of Design Ben Bateman. Red Bull, who helped sponsor the event, let it rain — I must have gone through three cans.
Joining Lumos on stage was Brinc’s choice for its next member, wearable company Mosaikx out of Dubai, and audience choice Indian IoT devices coordinator Thinqbot. But limiting mention to the winners would dismiss an impressive, international lineup of companies that definitely made journeying to Hong Kong worth the trip.
Gupta and Launch’s emcee, COO Bay McLaughlin, bootstrapped Brinc together last year using resources they had after work in the Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou where the accelerator now brings companies during the program. The infrastructure of the accelerator came from the co-founders’ own financial resources and assets from Gupta’s previous venture in southern China, Fabriqate, bringing the project together quickly.
The program is structured over 12 months, during which time they get themselves together at their PMQ headquarters before spending extended periods of time in the accelerator’s other two locations where they are meant to ramp up the prototyping process.
Shenzhen and Guangzhou are the centers of southern China’s industrial manufacturing and a key incentive for startups deciding to branch out to or headquarter themselves in Hong Kong. HK-American company Aivvy told Geektime recently that prototyping and manufacturing costs in Shenzhen were approximately a third of what they would be in the U.S., though those numbers could be different depending on the product design, the molding process, and obviously the scale of production.
Half of the acceleratees are from outside of HK, attesting to the transient cosmopolis that the city is. But that doesn’t mean the accelerator doesn’t see itself playing a role in pushing for more native entrepreneurs to enter its program.
“Approximately 30%” of the startups in the accelerator originate in Hong Kong itself, says Gupta, “and we’re continually looking to increase this number.”
The rolling admission style of Brinc gives the accelerator an advantage as it helps build up the city’s ecosystem. The wheels are always turning, something the city will definitely need if it’s going to catch up to other Asian startup centers like Singapore and Bengaluru.
“We are looking to continue being the leading IoT accelerator and platform in the region and helping to develop the global IoT ecosystem through our startups, content, strategic partnerships and events. We are also looking to invest in up to 15-20 startup teams in 2016 and are accepting applications from startups worldwide on a rolling basis,” Gupta notes.