Startups' dreams turn reality in Shenzhen

Adriana Vazquez grew up in Mexico City, studied in Pennsylvania and worked in New York. But it was the "Silicon Valley of China" that made her dream a reality.

Adriana Vazquez grew up in Mexico City, studied in Pennsylvania and worked in New York. But it was Shenzhen, the city in Guangdong Province known as the “Silicon Valley of China” that made her dream a reality.

The young Mexican entrepreneur is buzzed up by the thought that her little startup could take the world of working mothers by storm.

Vazquez’s company has devised an improved breast pump for lactating mothers that she says will be able to extract more milk from women who cannot be present to breastfeed their babies due to reasons like work.

The pumps currently available in the market use only suction to extract milk but there is more a baby does than suckle to stimulate the flow of milk, Vazquez explained. It creates a physical and emotional bonding with the mother which the pump cannot achieve and therefore it cannot extract all the milk.

“So what we are doing is making a product that stimulates the production of milk like the way a baby does while breastfeeding,” she said.

Only time will tell if Vazquez’s product will revolutionize the natal care market or not but there’s one thing that is certain: She would not have been able to achieve what she has had she not come to China.

In March, she set up shop in the Huaqiangbei area of Shenzhen, a sprawling marketplace of electronic goods and components that attracts buyers in daily droves.

On the eighth floor above the stalls there is the Shenzhen workshop of HAX, an American company investing in hardware startups based in Shenzhen and San Francisco.

The workshop is broken up into open-plan offices where young entrepreneurs like Vazquez are hard at work to develop their first prototypes, using components from the electronic market downstairs.

Each year, HAX offers around 30 startups a free office in Shenzhen, expert support and seed funding of US$100,000. Nearly 1,000 startups vie to be chosen. Vazquez was among the lucky few.

Because, said Cyril Ebersweiler, founder of HAX, Shenzhen was becoming a place like the United States’ Silicon Valley.

Today, Shenzhen is known for its hardware expertise, thanks to its huge number of factories and resellers. It also has one of the world’s most developed hardware industry chains and abundant intellectual capital.

Huaqiangbei, dubbed “China’s No. 1 electronics street,” is home to varieties of electronic components that bolster as well as inspire innovations.

“We got inspirations from headphones, from speakers, from things you would not necessarily think about, and I think that is how a unique place is able to do that,” Vazquez said.

Asif Khan, another HAX protege from Canada who is working on a new molding technology that will help manufacturers adjust their moldings quickly and easily, pointed out the other advantages of Shenzhen in the eyes of fledgling companies.

“It takes seven weeks to make a prototype in Canada while they could finish it in less than a week in China, (at) one-fifth the cost,” he said. “The low cost of production means lower trial mistake costs, which allows me to fully try out new ideas.”

Will Canine, the American founder of OpenTrons, which makes robots for biologists, praised the spirit of “open innovation” in Shenzhen as the only way to compete globally in the 21st century.

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