Hong Kong entrepreneurs tout economy's unique traits

Makible and Awesome Ship among local startups tapping geographic, cultural and financial resources to push new products and services, including mainstream 3D printer and push-notification product delivery app.
Written by Mahesh Sharma, Correspondent

Hong Kong entrepreneurs are tapping the economy's unique geographic, cultural, and financial resources to develop new applications, including a crowd-sourced funding site to mass produce a consumer-level 3D printer, as well as a freight push-notification service that won a global startup competition.

Makible is a Web site that manages the entire product lifecycle, from prototype to manufacturing and distribution. Designers and engineers can raise funds to convert a single prototype into mass produced goods, which then are sold and distributed globally.

It was founded by Hong Kong startup community organizer, Jon Buford, who said it is a more comprehensive version of Kickstarter, a popular site on which entrepreneurs crowdsource funds to support an idea or project, without the manufacturing or distribution components.

Makible recently featured its launch product, Makibox, a commercial 3D printer designed by Buford, who has over a decade's experience in Hong Kong's manufacturing and technology industries.

3D printing has grabbed headlines and consumer interest for its ability to convert digital designs into real products. U.S. magazine The Atlantic recently reported that one man had lost his egg cups and was able to print a replacement in minutes.

Buford said 3D printing would evolve in a similar manner to the personal computer in the 1990s, when an expensive toy for geeks became an affordable commodity for the masses.

"It's the right timing, it's getting more accessible. The cost is coming to the right point," he said. "That's where I'm coming at it from, I see the tech being right but the pricing is off."

Hong Kong built for business
He added that Hong Kong had allowed the Makibox to be produced at a competitive price because the parts were sourced directly from China's wholesale suppliers and manufacturers, such as TaoBao.

Additionally, Hong Kong's unique cultural heritage and freight links to the western world allow the product to be easily marketed and distributed to key consumer markets such as America and Europe.

Buford is hoping the Makible site will allow entrepreneurs to leverage the advantages of doing business in Hong Kong.

"We could be doing it in China but that has its tradeoffs," he said. "I can generally communicate with people in China more easily, but it's more difficult for them to reach out to the world at large. Hong Kong, since it's a free port, there're no duties [for] bringing stuff in and shipping it out... so basically there's no cost of doing business here in that respect.

"Singapore and other similar countries wouldn't be as straight-forward because getting the materials would require longer shipping [time]," he said. "Hong Kong tends to be for business... It is very neutral, open, it's not closed to anywhere, but it's also not far away from anywhere. Historically, it's a port, a place where people from all around the world come to do business."

Hong Kong entrepreneur, Teddy Chan, agreed that being located outside the U.S. enables local businesses to have a different perspective on consumer problems. Chan's shipment tracking application, Awesome Ship, was the winner at the first Startup Weekend in Hong Kong, held last November.

For the past eight years, Chan operated several online retail stores which sold a range of products such as radio controlled toys and gadgets. He has customers around the world but found it cumbersome to track real-time, the delivery status of orders, which relied on a tracking number to pull information from a Web site.

He developed the Awesome Ship app to push out notifications to merchants and customers at different points in the shipping cycle, including when the delivery reached their door.

The app increased returning customer rate by 15 percent, he said, adding that ideas like these were more likely to emerge from Hong Kong which was home to some of the biggest sellers on eBay, shipping a high volume and wide range of products.

"Every year there's a lot of packages shipped from Hong Kong to all over the world," Chan said. "It also helped me to develop the product because in Hong Kong, we do not use one shipping company like they do in the United States."

Mahesh Sharma is a freelance IT writer based in Australia.

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