Border Ecologies: Makerspace

By July 30, 2017 Discover Todoo project

As part of the CHIC project, we are multidisciplinary students that travelled one week in Hong Kong and ten days in Shenzhen. During this trip, we had the occasion to discover the start-up and entrepreneurship environment which is also called the “Ecosystem”.

In this document, we would like to explain our vision of the makerspaces in China. More specifically, we had investigate on the difference between Hong Kong and Shenzhen in term of maker/hackerspaces. First of all, we need to clarify the definition of this kind of place. A makerspace is a workspace open to all. This space usually includes a rapid prototyping workshop with different types of machines, as well as a co-working space. These places are generally dedicated to young professionals with the aim of carrying out research, prototyping or small-scale production. They bring people from different backgrounds together in one place.

The guideline of our microstudy will follow our trip in China. First, we will explain what kind of Maker/hacker-space we have found in Hong Kong. Then we will explore the subject for Shenzhen and underline the differences, common points and interactions with Hong Kong.

 

Hong Kong

It was on arriving in Hong Kong that we realized that a particular dynamic emanated from the city. Through participation in various events and conferences, we were able to discover the world of incubators and start-up.

Search for funds, creation of economic models and search for visibility. These start-ups have more or less all the same objectives, they find themselves in this city with the objective to take advantage of the opportunities and the resources in order to develop their product to the best. The economic part is an essential aspect of the development of these young companies. But what about infrastructure? How do they find the space and equipment needed for their research and prototyping?

As visits continued, we were able to discover that few locations in Hong Kong offer the possibility of renting workspaces and make available rapid prototyping workshops.

In every makerspace there is an atmosphere of sharing, innovative and creative. In the midst of this creative atmosphere, nevertheless reigns a desire for success and grandeur. Most makerspace welcomes professionals and start-up who develop innovative products in order to be able to market them. For example MakerHive offers, in addition to their co-working space and their workshop, private offices more suited to small companies. They are also part of a large network of entrepreneurs, accelerators and incubators. Unlike these commercial cravings, Dim Sum Lab has attracted our attention in the growing dynamic of Hong Kong.

Like the chinese food, Dim Sum Lab is a place that brings together people around a table to share something they like. At Dim Sum Labs, everyone is welcomed to come, gather and make, hack, build, share, collaborate, educate, encourage, grow and achieve. Dim Sum Lab organize several workshops or HackJam[1] and are open to everyone. The Lab is a part of the global Hackerspace movement identifying with the idea of “Not For Profit”[2]. What was the most surprising for us, especially in Hong Kong, was to discover a place where they didn’t talk to us about money, profit and start-up: this place is all about creating and sharing.

By discovering a place so small and space so optimized, we feel strongly the very high price of the square meter in Hong Kong. By analysing this space, we can largely imagine the physical and economic challenges associated with the city[3].

 

Shenzhen

As we arrived in Shenzhen, the environment varied compared to what we have seen before. The first impression was that there is a lot of space compare to Hong Kong with larger road and sidewalk. The cost of living in Shenzhen is also strongly lower. During the week in Shenzen we have worked at X.factory which is a makerspace that will open its doors in September 2017.

The first makerspace in the city was set in 2010 and today there is more than hundred hacker/makerspace[4]. Such an increase may have been possible as the makers believe that physical spaces such as makerspaces will bring innovation and social changes[5]. When we arrived at X.factory, our first impression was that the space is not a problem. The workspace was much larger compared to what we saw in Hong Kong. Therefore, there is different room for each application. For example, a room is specially set for machinery on metal (drilling, cutting, etc…) while another has been set up for the work on the wood and a last for the 3D printing. Looking more closely at X.factory, we noticed that there were a lot of gadget or little funny prototypes on the shelves. It made us think of the Dim sum lab that proposes workshop and has this spirit of Do-It Yourself. This DIY-culture is fuelled by workshop with basic courses on microcontroller with for example Raspberry Pi, Arduino or Seeeduino[6].

While the craft based participatory methodology was developed in china by the creative community[7], we totally felt this desire for sharing and mutual help in the makerspaces like X.factory. The spaces are open and people can share their ideas on whiteboards or around a table to come up with a new concept or a design.

 

Mains ideas

To conclude with the mains ideas, the manufacturing costs of a prototype in Shenzhen is certainly lower than in Hong Kong. In fact, many of the start-ups incubated in Hong Kong will go to Shenzhen to do the hardware part. In fact, the space in Hong Kong is very expensive and hardware needs place for its development. Compare to software which requires less space, hardware is also less profitable. Another advantage of being a Maker in Shenzhen is the accessibility of electronic resources.

With the electronics market and PCB manufacturing companies that are implanted in Shenzhen, prototyping become very fast. Today a big community of maker is implanted in Shenzhen with over hundred makerspaces.

We must not forget the larger-scale production that is China’s strength. Thereby, the “accelerator” offers their services to the start-up to take advantage of the ecosystem and make manufacturing on a larger scale. We have also seen that there are several differences in terms of space, language, culture but the DIY-, Maker-culture remain a strong cooperation between Shenzhen and Hong Kong: Shenzhen providing the hardware while Hong Kong provide the service and business part. This are some reasons why the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen is so particular with an ecologies merging from two complex ecosystems.

 

 

References

  • Justin Marshall and Catharine Rossi (2017), “Making with China, Craft-Based Participatory Research Methods for Investigating Shenzhen’s Maker Movement”, DCS | Digital Culture and Society | Vol. 3, Issue 1, pp. 127-138
  • Lanyon, Charley (2013): “At HackJam, Great Minds Tinker Alike.” In: South China Morning Post, 2017 July 18 (http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/technology/article/1262979/hackjam-great-minds-tinker-alike).
  • Michelle Poon and Wilhelm E. J. Klein (2017), “Identity Crisis in the Pearl River Delta, A Conversation with a Hong Kong Hackerspace Community”, DCS | Digital Culture and Society | Vol. 3, Issue 1, pp. 159-184
  • Silvia Lindtner (2014), “Hackerspaces and the Internet of Things in China: How makers are reinventing industrial production, innovation, and the self”, China Information Vol. 28(2), pp. 145-167
  • Wen Wen (2017), “Making in China: Is maker culture changing China’s creative landscape?”, International Journal of Cultural Studies 00(0), pp. 1-18

 

[1] Weekly meetings, see At HackJam, Great Minds Tinker Alike.”

[2] See Identity Crisis in the Pearl River Delta (2017).

[3] Ibid.

[4] See Making with China, Craft-Based Participatory Research Methods for Investigating Shenzhen’s Maker Movement (2017)

[5] See Hackerspaces and the Internet of Things in China (2014).

[6] Ibid.

[7] See Making in China: Is maker culture changing China’s creative landscape? (2017)