China: From copy cat to innovation

China has come a long way – in a very short time. And they are moving on as if nothing can stop them. From being the mecca for copying brand name products and pushing them into the markets, they have established their own brands in any price range in the field of electronics (Lenovo, Huawei, Xiome – just to name a few) and now they are ready for the next step: innovating. And the magic word around it is MAKERS.


What David Li (native Taiwanese) and two others started 2010 in Shanghai is almost history: China’s first hacker/maker space XinCheJian. On their website they define a hackerspace as “community-operated physical places all around the world, where people can meet and have fun on their projects. XinCheJian, the first of many Hackerspaces in China, is one of the many hundreds Hackerspaces all around the world. Each Hackerspace is an autonomous entity, but they all share the same philosophy of having fun building things. An hackerspace is an environment where people can learn and tinker with technology, work in teams, participate in international competitions where many new opportunities can be found and created for all.”

I remember the difficulties David was facing in the beginning. For many Chinese – the government included – these kind of working spaces were rather suspicious. Today they are seen as THE nest for innovation. Very officially and with a big bang Li Keqiang, the Chinese Premier, announced in Shenzen, the heart of Made in China, that the Chinese government will implemet the Maker philosophy on a huge scale. Li Keqiang himself visited the Chaihuo Hackerspace in Shenzen which is also the cell and first office of Seeed Studio.


Seeed has everything what is needed for the innovation process: from the perfect environment of generating ideas to prototyping to getting the products ready to market. Seeed is a hardware innovation platform for makers – no matter if the makers are self-employed or employers of companies – no matter how big or small they are. For the makers Seeed provides access to technologies, supply chain knowledge and literally the ability to produce prototypes. In an iterative process pieces from 1-1000 can be easily and quickly produced. The manufacturing is manged by an agile manufacture team of Seeed. And the manufacturing conditions are good! I visited the manufacturing floor, short video will follow soon). Seeed also teams up with incubators, the Chinese tech ecosystem and investors and distributors to broaden the maker’s market. All the products which come out of Seeed are open source!

Seeed started in 2008 as a two men show. Eric Pan, whom I met yesterday, was one of them. Meanwhile he has grown Seeed into a profitable company with more than 200 employers. Seeed is also the host of the ShenzenMakerFaire which was promoted at the NasDaq screen at Times Square, New York.


The Maker Faire will take place in the third week of June 2015 and they aim for the first time for international outreach. By the number of foreign visitors in the electronic markets of Huaqiangbei I have no doubt that they will succeed.

These days Eric and David are both heavily frequented by government officials. From all government levels (local, regional, central) officers come and inspect and learn about the maker culture. They seek the maker’s advice to scale the innovation movement. The decision is made. Makers are riding on a huge wage – the remaining question is will they stay on top of the wave or will they be overrun?

The idea of implementing what they call maker libraries – accessible for everybody – all over China and to encourage companies to do the same inside is something the Chinese are very good at. But where do all the makers come from? What David and Marc are practicing in their environment is a completely different working culture and cannot be simply multiplied. It has to grow. It’s an open process – and if the Chinese government gets this right, then I am sure we will soon see a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs reaching out to international markets with products innovated AND made in China.

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