DIY Ready To Scale?


Kevin Kelly, senior maverick at Wired, has his doubts on this. David Li, the guy who opened up the first maker / hacker space in China, interviewed Kevin at the MakerFaire in Shenzen. Being asked if open source and DIY products will replace or challenge traditional mass prodcution Kelly replied very hesistant: “DIY and open source products enhance the number of possibilities and this by itself is a very good and positive thing. But today I cannot foresee any scenario that DIY and/or open source products will ever vanish mass production for consumer and/or industrial goods or even challenge it in a significant way.” A bear hug for the world capitol of mass production in electronics, an embarrassment for the fairly new and quickly growing community of young innovators which was just recently ennobled by none less than the Chinese Prime Minister himself. China’s new innovators embody the DIY culture and I do believe that their biggest gathering and get together has a very specific reason to take place in the world centre for mass manufacturing – and this reason is explicitly mass manufacturing. So what happened when DIY and mass manufacturing meet? Is Kevin Kelly wrong?

It was my third visit to Shenzen, the second one in this year. You can almost see the city changing during a three month period. And it was my second visit to a MakerFaire. The first one I attended was in Accra, Ghana, West Africa. It was the first African MakerFaire and it was in 2009. In Accra everything was about prototyping. Prototyping products which eventually would improve the daily lives of the people. We saw prototypes such as a cooler for tomatoes or an irrigation system for farmers or clothes made out of old plastic bags and newspapers. A broad variety of daily needs. In Shenzen there weren’t any prototypes – almost each and every showcased DIY product and gadget was ready for mass production.

Shenzhen was built from scratch exactly for the reason of mass production. Mass production of electronics. It became well-known as THE copy-cat center of the world – but this is changing rapidly. Not only do the manufacturing lines change towards more qualitative products, e.g. Leica is supplying its objectives and lenses for the Chinese version of the gopro camera, we also see the rise of an entire new service industry around the manufacturing processes: consultants helping people to design their manufacturing outlets – very flexible, very fast and still very cheap. You basically come with a prototype and they design the facilities or adjust existing ones. It’s what’s called an “absorptive state” – it’s getting better and better at combining its own local capabilities and infrastructure with foreign technologies and knowledge. And when you walk around in the electronic malls in Shenzhen you experience the international business crowd looking out for exactly this. Basically each vendor in the mall is associated with at least one or two manufacturers. And this is the feeling I had when I strolled around at the MakerFaire in the midst of Hardware City – the district in which most of the multinational IT hardware companies have their offices. The only difference: the international business crowd at MakerFaire were the young makers. Unlike in many other MakerFaires the DIY spirit and the presence of art-tech mash-ups were lacking. Instead the makers were equipped with order sheets and product catalogs – the things I saw most were robots, drones and 3D-printers. And I saw guys from the manufacturing firms walking around and looking for interesting prototypes ready for their mass production units. And at quite some office buildings you could see the logos of international accelerators.

Kevin Kelly (left) interviewed by David Li

So coming back to Kevin Kelly – yes, I’d argue he is wrong. What I’ve seen in Shenzhen is “Maker to Market” – fully supported and in line with the Chinese government claims. What this basically means is that “weird prototypes and gadgets” which were developed in the grassroots communities of hacker and maker spaces in Shanghai and Shenzhen and elsewhere now become commercial products.

And what you can also already sense and already see in Shenzhen – many of these young makers and innovators set up their own companies. They want to become entrepreneurs. This will certainly fuel Shenzen’s economy further and add a new component to its industrial landscape. And when you walk through OCT Loft, a very surprising quarter of Shenzhen (at least to me), you’ll get a sense of what this means … just click through the pict below and you feel you are in Amsterdam, Berlin or Barcelona. OCT Loft – surprise, surprise – is also home of the first maker space in Shenzhen: Chaihuo – the cell and first office of seeed studio. And it’s also the place where the first Shenzhen MakerFaire took place. Seeed studio in turn is the main sponsor and organizer of the Shenzhen MakerFaire and the world’s biggest online platform selling everything what maker need. Mostly open source hardware components – made by makers for makers. And with their own production facilities – which are open and transparent – they are closing the gap between prototype and mass production by manufacturing up to 1000 pieces.

OCT Loft in Shenzen

Currently the “Maker to Market” products are quite simple – in comparison to sophisticated and specialized technologies – and they are mostly built on open hardware technologies such as Arduino and low cost labour force. But having seen the transformation in Shenzhen’s industry in the last decade it’s hard to imagine that it will STOP here. And the first glimpses we could catch already: students from Hunan University showcased an electric car that runs 300 km per charge. Others showed a fuel-efficient vehicle which could run 1000 km with 1l of gasoline. And this vehicle only scored second best in a Honda competition for fuel-efficient cars. The big companies have realized the potential of the makers – and they are embracing it. Sony and Samsung for example have opened their research labs for the makers in Beijing. A bold move.

But does all this mean at a wider level that the manufacturing practices in Shenzhen, in the Guandong region and in entire China will even get worse? More unfair pay and harsh working conditions in the factories? Already many strikes for better salaries are going on and Foxconn, one of the MakerFaire’s main sponsors, is subject to interrogation about the working conditions in its factories. And the question of what kind of impact these factories have on the environment (air, water, nature, health …) isn’t part of a public debate yet. This opens a wide area for speculation.

For me the Shenzhen MakerFaire shined a light on the potential of the DIY ecosystem and ways to move forward, the political regimes which more or less regulates it, the infrastructures which supports it, the forms of work that drive it and the culture and history that shape it.

We are on – Kumbhathon 5 (#K5)

Last week we were on for the 5th time over the last 18 month. Kumbhathon 5 or #K5. I was there in late January 2015 and it felt like coming back to a huge family. Read my blogpost from #K4 here.

It’s only a few weeks to go and the Kumbha Mela will start. It’s the biggest religious gathering on this planet – and here is where the pilgrims will take their dip into the holy water at three specific days in August and September: Ramkund, Nasik. Hard to imagine that millions will do so! It will be a very very crowded place then, no doubt.


The Kumbhathon is an iniative of the MIT Media Lab which started out almost 2 years ago at inktalks, when Ramesh Raskar, born in India and currently professor at the MIT, announced it. It’s a year-round initiative to identify and address the challenges of a pop-up city like Nashik when it will grow from its “normal” 2 million inhabitants to 15 million a day during the celebrations. Kumbha Mela will give innovators, change makers, entrepreneurs and corporations the opportunity to learn, develop and test solutions to “pop-up city” problems at scale, instantly, so they can be mapped to large gatherings and emerging cities worldwide.

I was very keen to see what happened between #K4 and #K5 – what would be the status of the projects? Would new projects have been added? How would the students and young entrepreneurs have been developed and moved forward? With some of the participants I kept interacting after #K4 and three of them even came to visit me at Janwar Castle. At #K5 again there were 150+ participants there – students, innovators from all over India. Most of them with an IT or engineering background. There is / was a lack of management, administrative and creative people  … I would assume diversity would drive this initiative even further.

The first three days I was counseling and mentoring the various projects under the lead of innovation strategist Beth Zonis who was hired by the MIT Media Lab to guide the students and innovators through this crucial process of really getting things done and getting things ready for Kumbha Mela. From 10 am to 6 pm we listened to all the groups and advised them in the following key issues:

  • to get their project explained in a few compelling words.
  • to describe its benefits for Khumbha Mela.
  • to identify a business model.
  • to schedule and prioritize the process and streamline it.
  • and to share it with others in order to find synergies and identify common challenges.

Once we broke the ice and they accepted us not as “Yes, Madam” or “Yes, Sir” the presentations of the groups became much more like conversations. It took us a while to make them understand that it is them to make the decision and it’s us ONLY to give advice. Our advice should been taken into consideration but it shouldn’t be accepted as a task to follow up with. To achieve this understanding among the students was a tough job.

For some of them it was also hard to understand the 3 layers – the bigger picture – of the Kumbhathon:

  • having personal goals and reasons.
  • dedicating time and resources to a very specific project.

And on top of these two things

  • understanding what it means to be part of an open platform like Kumbhathon where you first put in before you can pull out.

Some of the projects evolved and developed since #K1 and those were the ones which were very much advanced and ready – so to speak. Actually at the last day of the Khumbhathon one group founded a company;-) During our hearings and conversations it became pretty clear that not all projects will make it. A few were still in a kind of “dreaming status” where one would think that Khumbha Mela will happen next year. There was no urgency and no will to get things done – and it was kind of hard to tell this to the students and innovators. I believe if more management and administrative people would have been in the groups they would have sensed this urgency and they would have understood how to get things done. The lack of design people also became obvious … no really compelling designs and presentations were seen. But these are all things which can be added easily.

This might sound a bit negative – but I wanted to point to some critical points which open the space for improvement. I want to see this process growing bigger … and this is why I am participating and hopefully adding value. The best things which happened over these 2 years are that the MIT Kumbhathon has really established a PLATFORM, a SANDBOX where many stakeholders have bought into: authorities of Nashik, government, universities and colleges, international, national and local companies, citizens and young students, innovators and entrepreneurs. And this is a very precious thing …. the platform / the network is set-up out of which more things will evolve. A lot of friends have been made and even more like-minded people found each other. It’s almost as like a movement has started, a movement for

  • spotting problems,
  • finding and prototyping solutions,
  • and then translate these solutions into valuable products.

A movement to think and act like innovators and the realization that this can only be achieved when as many people as possible collaborate. It can’t be achieved by one company or one institution alone.

And if only a few of the existing solutions will succeed during Khumbha Mela the system is proven right. And I am sure a few projects will succeed and help to understand situations in which cities suddenly grow at large scale much better – high among them the Kumbha Mela app, the epidemic tracker, the media tracker, the crowd steering project and maybe one of the housing projects.

I am tempted to return to Nashik during the Khumbh – not sure though if I really want to face that huge crowd;-)

Thanks to Ramesh Raskar and John Werner for letting me be part of this!

Kumbhathon – Where Tradition and Technology meet!

The Kumbha Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage of faith in which Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred river. It is considered to be the largest peaceful gathering in the world. It happens every three years – either in Nashik, Allahabad, Ujjain and Haridwar. This year the Hindus will gather in August in Nashik – more than 30 million people are expected.

Nashik ist 180 km north east of Bombay. It has two million inhabitants and is the 16th fatest growing city in the world! The Indian Sula wine comes right from there;-)

Right here the Sadus will dip into the river during Kunbha Mela

The Kumbhathon is an iniative of the MIT Media Lab in Boston which started out almost 2 years ago at inktalks in Bombay, when Ramesh Raskar, born in Nashik and currently professor at the MIT, announced it. It’s a year-round initiative to identify and address the challenges of cities in developing countries. Kumbha Mela in Nashik will give innovators, change makers, entrepreneurs and corporations, the opportunity to learn, develop and test solutions to “pop-up city” problems at scale, instantly, so they can be mapped to large gatherings and emerging cities worldwide. So the MIT Media Lab takes the Kumbha Mela as an opportunity to set the frame for Indian students and young entrepreneurs that they can exactly do this: innovate, drive change, learn, develop and test. Here you can read more about it – Ramesh has written an interesting blogpost on it.

For the Kumbhathon 150 Indian students and young were selected – they’ve been meeting so far I think for the fourth ve been meeting so far I think for the fourth time. In the last week of January a week long event was scheduled in Nashik. The Media Lab brought in all selected students and entrepreneurs, as well as the Nashik officials and a stellar line up of India’s tech companies. And a few “externals” were invited (I was lucky to be one of them) to mentor the students and young entrepreneurs on their way forward.

What an intense week it was. The “youngsters” were challenging and demanding – in a very nice way though. I really enjoyed the interaction with them – and no matter where: either at the venue, or during quick outbreaks or in the evenings in the hotel.


We’ve had 30 projects to deal with – from food to water, from health to payment, from transport to housing and civic issues – a broad range with astonishing solutions. Some of them were pure tech products (apps, online platforms), others were engineering products (clean water), there were on-/offline mix products (housing) and construction products (temporary houses). I am sure not all of them will become “real” products and solve a Kumbha Mela problem at the end – but this doesn’t matter. If only a few succeed – and they definitely will – this entire Kumbhathon is a success. It’s the process which is important. To learn how to solve a very specific problem in a team – almost in an incubator environment – this is what will remain and last with the participants, even if they don’t finish with a product ready to use.

What the KUMBHATHON has proven (again) is that all it needs to solve a problem – is a whatsoever environment with good vibes where failure is not an issue, a bunch of people which are open minded and the possibility to build and prototype. It can happen anywhere … and you can start immediately. As we did in a small village in UP or the KUMBHTHON people did in Nashik.

In Nashik I was amazed and frankly speaking very much surprised about the committment the students and young entrepreneurs had – they were eager to solve LOCAL SOCIAL problems, they were eager to take their problems in their own ends – and not one of them dreamt about leaving the country and conquer Silicon Valley! (maybe there were a few … but definitely a minority!) This is outstanding! What you usually see in the good colleges and universities in India – such as the IIT’s or ISB in Hyderabad – are students coming from wealthy families, students which are very narrow minded, trained and educated with the mindset to achieve a well paid job as an engineer abroad or a secure government position.

Here – this was a different crowd!

Three of the students will actually come and join me next week in Panna where I currently work and build a new learning environment. They will set up computers and tablets for the kids in a village where most of the people cannot read and write. They will come and work with the kids for a couple of days … none of them gets paid … they even pay for their travels … they do it because they believe these kids in this small rural village can make it as well!

I am sure their physical presence in the village will encourage the locals a lot!

I’d like to end with an interview I did with Nilay Kulkarni, a local guy from Nashik who joined the KUMBHATHON a year ago when he was 14 years old … Just listen and enjoy!

Start-up Scene in India: A Promising Outlook!

Silicon Valley insider Vivek Wadhwa tells us how India’s entrepreneurs will change the world. As we enter the most innovative period in history, Wadhwa sees an impending internet boom and millions of internet businesses coming up in India, and predicts that within a decade China’s manufacturing industry and India’s call centre industry will be toast.

And here is a brief interview in addition to Vivek’s talk!

Slowly – in the last few years a bit more rapidly – the start-up scene in India is growing. What are the key drivers for growth and how will the scene develop?

India has many advantages when it comes to entrepreneurship. It is already in the DNA of its people—have always thrived in commerce and trade. Now with the millions who have been trained in IT Services, are well educated and well off, and tired of working for the same big companies, we are likely to see an explosion in the numbers of startups.

Where do you see the main fields of development ? (agriculture, health, education, water, pollution, infrastructure … )

All of these. Entrepreneurs will learn the problems and build the solutions.

Do you see any chance how these developments can bridge the gap between rural and urban India?

Some of the best entrepreneurs are already looking to solve the problems of rural India. As rural India becomes connected via smartphones which have Internet access, they will also be connected to urban India—and the world—like never before.

Having this very promising outlook, where do you think the man power will come from? Many companies in India today complain that their is a huge lack of available talent …

India has no shortage of people. It is a matter of providing the hundreds of millions who are left out of the innovation economy with the education, training, and tools. Technology will soon make all of this possible as I discussed in my INK talk.

Modi’s initiative “Make in India” aiming to bring international companies and money into India to invest, do you think it will work? If so what is the frame set which might need to change and what might be the implications for India’s start-up scene?

It will work to some extent for sure. Advancing technologies will accelerate the process because we will soon be 3D printing our physical goods.

Here are the slides of Vivek’s presentation at Inhtalks:

Gregor Gysi und Peter Scholl-Latour – das passt!

Gestern fand auf dem Landgut Gühlen das Frühlingsfest der Deutsch-Arabischen Gesellschaft statt. Sehr gelungen! Entspannt, wundervolle Musik, spannende und kontrovers diskutierte Inhalte und strahlende Sonne! Das Fest fand in diesem Jahr zu Ehren des Welterklärers Peter Scholl-Latour statt, dem mittlerweile 90-jährigen Präsidenten der Gesellschaft

Die Laudatio auf Peter Scholl-Latour hielt Gregor Gysi. Und diese war richtig gut …

Und das kam dann ganz spontan von Peter Scholl-Latour zurück:

Man sollte wirklich beide Videos nacheinander anschauen, die beiden verbindet wirklich etwas. Leider musste Gregor Gysi nach seiner Rede gleich wieder weiter und es blieb keine Zeit zum Gespräch.

The Entrepreneurship Cell

Next week, on Nov. 15th, I will join the MACON network and talk during their Entrepreneur Week with the students about social entrepreneurship and new technologies. It will be my first time in Hyderabad.

The MAÇON network at the IBS Business School in Hyderabad was founded in 2008 when Mr. Anup Aggarwal, a student and an aspiring entrepreneur, felt the need for guidance and support in order to achieve his entrepreneurial dreams. Today, MAÇON is an amalgamation of individuals with a vision and a dream which indubitably, can come true. It is a platform for all those who want to create their own paths and leave behind the trails of success. The E-Cell aims at nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit and tremendous energy among individuals to a level where they can bring about a positive change in the society; a change we all aspire for. MAÇON facilitates the students with B-Plan workshops and guidance by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

I will give the students some background information about myself, who am I and why I work the way I do, I’ll take them on a journey why SOCIAL entrepreneurship is relevant and why social does NOT mean “no money”, how new technologies can support the social and entrepreneurial cause and what it takes to move from an idea to set up a company. I will also talk about new technologies will change our ideas of companies … It hopefully will be a fruitful talk and discussion for all of us.

Thanks ti Sumit Wadhwa and the entire MACON team to make this happen.

I will share my presentation here as soon as it is finished;-)

Make A Difference

The last few days I spent in Bangalore, India, to attend the Global Citizen Conference held by the Melton Foundation. It’s an annual event bringing together Melton Fellows, thought leaders, and global citizenship advocates to share ideas, learn skills, forge partnerships, and act on local and global issues. It truly was an experience of its own. 60 young people seriously engaged in driving social change – getting things done instead of talking about it! They came together for 2 weeks from 5 different universities in China, Chile, Germany, New Orleans and Bangalore and established a bank for their future collaboration.

Here are a few short interviews I did with some Melton Junior Fellows (it’s a youtube player, so there is more than one video to watch;-):

I’ve also had the chance to talk to Winthrop Carty, the Executive Director of Melton Foundation

One part of the Global Citizen Conference were the so-called Springboard Sessions – carefully selected stories to inspire actions on global issues. One of the speakers was Jithin Nedumala, CEO and founder of Make a Difference (MAD). MAD is all about creating self sustainable communities and to empower people to drive social change. It’s a youth movement … And I have to say (and probably you will see & feel it when you watch the video) that I really enjoyed talking to Nithin;-)

The start of a transformation process …

On May 3rd and 4th the we-school team with collaborators went to Patha, a tiny little village in Uttar Pradesh. The area is one of the poorest parts of India and a typical example for what it looks like when rural India is left behind in the race to develop. The poor are the victims. We went there to hold a workshop on how the villagers can cooperate to make their village a better and more prosperous place. I reported on this before.

To do so we used design thinking – a well-proven management method for innovation. It enables people to speak out right from their hearts, it gives free reign to their imagination and enables their creativity to flourish. As a result people easily co-create unusual ideas and solutions, they connect the right dots unexpectedly and – above all – they take ownership of THEIR solutions. And this is what you need when you want to drive REAL change.

The villagers provided a wonderful location. Right in the center of the village. The most perfect spot you can imagine – with an atmosphere almost impossible to improve.

The workshop was separated into 4 parts. The first part was all about identifying the problems of the village. During the second part we invited experts to tell the villagers about their experiences. The third part was up to the villagers themselves again – finding solutions for the problems which have been identified. And last but not least prioritise them and set up an action plan that assigns responsibilities and a binding schedule for when to do what.

Mehmood Khan guided the villagers through the workshop. During his business career at Unilever – where he was head of global innovation at the end – he practiced this concept over and over again. With a huge success. He describes the opening session as follows:

The outcome was pretty impressive. In 11 groups with max. 10 people each, the villagers identified more than 100 issues for their village. We categorised them in 7 main fields of action:

  • water (drinking/irrigation/tank)
  • education
  • health & hygiene (hospital, mosquito repellant)
  • unemployment
  • village market
  • debt of farmers
  • transport in and out of town

All these issues were discussed in the afternoon with experts and local officials. The collector of Mahoba, Anuj Kumar Jha, who is responsible for Patha and his CDO, Mr. Ykupadhyay, were very cooperative – and they still are. We hope it will last 😉

Our experts had a various backgrounds and reached out to the villagers on different levels:

  • we had two young fellows from the INK-Google initiative The Next Billion Online, Durgha Ramji and Ajith Inguva
  • Baboo Sahab, a human rights activist and part of the RTI movement
  • and Prem Singh, an agriculture specialist from the area who started his own Today it includes a wide range of small villagers selling their “green agriculture products” all over India.

The second day was the “solution day”. The villagers worked together in groups again and came up with THEIR solutions for THEIR issues defined the day before – everything precisely documented: solution, who takes ownership of the solution and when to do what. What I actually liked the best was the fact that the village kids themselves took action to improve the education situation and came up with ideas how to proceed. And they didn’t hesitate to present them in front of the audience and the officials! Hands-up for them!

Tonite I’ll take the night train to go to Patha again and discuss with the villagers the progress of our action plan. It’s the second time I go back after the workshop. So far they’ve set up their Patha Development Society and continued their conversation with the officials. The CDO confirmed that the state will give them one computer for their secondary school (we-school will add another three) and they are discussing the check dam and water tanks.

My job in the future will be to guide them through the transformation process, to bring in cooperation partners when needed and look for funding TOGETHER with them for the next projects. To be very honest, I only now realize how much they count on me and how much hope I bring to them. A responsibility I am willing to take but which is also not always easy to carry out. But I know one thing for sure: We (our planet) can’t afford ANY LONGER to leave these 5 billion people behind and we finally need to stop living on their expenses. It’s time to take action and work honestly together with them and build a sustainable future for all of us. A future for which all our kids yearn for to live in!

So I am curious to see what we’ll work on tomorrow …