#ConnectedConf: Interview with Sabrina Sasaki from Makers Boot Camp

May 24, 2016
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Tomorrow will mark the opening of Connected Conference, the 3-day event about IoT and everything related to the convergence of Internet and Industry.

For this occasion, we interviewed Sabrina Sasaki, Marketing Manager at Makers Boot Camp – one of the leading acceleration program dedicated to hardware in Japan, but also one of our many speakers, who’s going to share a panel – “Future of Building Things: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, with Formlab’s CEO Michael Sorkin, Venture Beat‘s journalist Chris O’Brien and more.

 

Connected Conference is all about the intersection of Industry & the Internet. Where do you fit in this intersection?

As a hardware accelerator, this intersection is exactly where our core business is, since entrepreneurs we work with usually start their industrial projects through a crowdfunding platform, where connected users everywhere in the world can easily become a potential customer.

And all over the world (with fully equipped in-house factories capable of producing end-to-end prototypes, such as the impressive DMM.make AKIBA structure set inside business buildings in Akihabara, Tokyo), this development encourages more and more entrepreneurs to experiment with new ideas at low cost.

But once startups join a FabLab and their first prototype is done, they need to test it and get it ready for mass production: that’s when things tend to get harder (and harder), as those spaces offer support only up to 10/15 prototype pieces, limited to their DIY(Do It Yourself) basis.

After that, startups must keep working by themselves and deal with suppliers. That’s exactly where the “hardware startups valley of failure” shows up: a place where they tend to loose the track of their project and “fall down on a hill.” This decisive stage is called Design for Manufacturing and it’s essentially where our business is focused: we are committed to support them on crossing the valley to reach mass manufacturing more prepared to deal with all required challenges.

According to Kickstarter, around 75% of well succeed hardware pledges fail to deliver a product on time, mainly due to lack of industrial know-how for such a complex project. As IoT market grows, there is a customized demand for lower volumes, and clusters of users looking for unique and affordable high-quality products. From a consumer point of view, it represents a new range of possibilities but also a risk to take once you decide to back a new idea.

Only a few startups have such practical Industrial Project Management skills for their size. Even experienced engineers who used to work for big companies need support in key parts of the process, as dealing with suppliers on behalf of big corporations is totally different than bargaining with small manufacturers when you are a tiny player. Chinese factories, as we know, are interested in large volumes to increase their margins, which is not the case for most startups.

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Design for Manufacturing: the valley of failure for hardware startups.

Makers Boot Camp results from entrepreneurs combining their efforts towards a common goal: helping to develop an extremely competent already existing worldwide makers movement, with many FabLabs and FabCafes, into a more complete and consistent environment, aligning universities & institutes to industrial know-how with investors support.

Each one of our co-founders brings a unique background in the market for an innovative leading hardware approach: our CEO Narimasa Makino is a business manager who’s been running incubators in Kansai (region that includes Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Nara). Kenshin Fujiwara is a technical architect for hardware & software products, web services, highly scalable systems & mobile applications, with CTO & CIO role for high-tech startups, after years as an Engineer at Sony, and Masatoshi Takeda is our Co-Founder from the Industry, running crossEffect, a company focused on Design Molding. Takeda is also the main representative of Kyoto Shisaku Net, a group of 100 SME that  joined forces together to complement each other and face daily industrial challenges as a group.

Our manufacturing structure with a Samurai mentorship provided by qualified and experienced team of prototype makers, KSN board, suppliers for most of well known reliable technology brands in Japan.

 

What makes Japan different in the way it deals with hardware and innovation?

Japan is worldwide famous for an outstanding hardware industry and as a foreigner (even with my father’s heritage, I’m still 100% ‘Gaijin”) it’s amazing to realise how excellency is taken to another level in every single detail, from design to circuits & assembly.

FabFoundry NYC CEO Nobuhiro Seki explains on his recent post how innovation is part of the process: in Japanese the word for maker is “Monozukuri” which literally means “making things”, but in a more broad concept, it refers to: “reliable technology and processes integrating development, production and procurement, it also includes intangible qualities such as craftsmanship and dedication to continuous improvement”.

The country has amazing innovative hardware projects going on now from Tokyo to Fukuoka, having Kansai geographically and strategically in between. Local governments are fomenting such activities, which also attracts investors focusing on promising reliable technologies.

As Financial Times has pointed out recently, Kyoto is a Japanese hub that has driven hardware innovation in the world, from the most famous Nintendo to key Kyocera, Omron, Horiba, and Shimizu. A fascinating ecosystem for creators, with a population of around 1.5 million and 38 universities and technical colleges, plus investments from both public and private sector on maker’s facilities. We currently collaborate with key local players (Kyoto City as the main one), in order to offer outstanding local work spaces for startups. Kyoto Design Lab (part of Kyoto Institute of Technology), ASTEM, and Kyoto Research Park.

 

What is the current state of IoT in Japan? Connected devices are already spread in the country?

Japan is a nation where robots can be used everywhere (the case for Pepper, the Softbank assistant, is a very popular one) as well automated services already are: from the famous vending machines on the streets, to e-money cards, (used for transport and food) and also toilet seats that open, close and flush automatically.

Coming from South America, there is an economical and social point to add: Japan is safer than anywhere else I have been before. Besides my personal impressions, it’s easy to realise Japanese consumers can use their devices on their long commuting journey (one of the longest in the world, around 1h/journey,a t least 2 times a day), and the unique way personal space is taken leads to promoting more and more connected devices, in order to facilitate their lives and still keep some private space for their leisure. Once you ride a train in a big city during rush hours, it becomes easy to understand the demand for connected products.

A simple example of the growing demand for connected devices: in Japan, there is an earthquake alarm offered by carriers, and if you have been there during one of them, you’ll realise how connected the country must be. For natural disaster prevention, as Tokyo, Kobe and more recently Kumamoto have shown, connected devices might become a survival skill both government and private sectors are interested to invest on.

Due to population ageing, health care and medical topics still play a tremendous important role, from researches to industry. Japan is known to be an island where most of the population tend to live longer, and technology can allow them to also live better.

It’s also impressive to realize how many tourists come to Japan not only to visit all the amazing tourist attractions but also to buy top quality products. Chinese are the ones who surprise me most! They come to buy reliable products here, as they tend to believe Japanese standards are higher.

Concerning IoT stage, it’s part of an evolution: the 1st generation of connected devices – wearable and IoT gadgets like Moff, Telepathy, Ring, and UpPerforma (one of the startups from our Acceleration Program). The 2nd generation, focus on smart houses, smart cars, robots and also humanoid robotics, including Atmoph.

I visited Slush Asia in Tokyo last week with our advisor Sushi Suzuki (Associate professor, KYOTO Design Lab at the Kyoto Institute of Technology), who’s an IoT early adopter and also very active in the startup scenery in Japan when we had the chance to talk about this topic. It seems like recently IoT has become as big in Japan as it is in the US, which is to say, lots of hype and not that many products going mainstream, as big companies are now starting to catch up with IoT products and solutions.

There is still a huge market for connected homes since the appliances companies are also consumer electronics companies (e.g. Panasonic) and looking for new differentiators in a very competitive field.

Remote control air conditioning has been around for a while and all the companies offer it. Smart locks are coming around right now too.

Discipline and education are cultural assets taken seriously in Japan, and early adopters tend to pledge new ideas. Smart watches, pedometers, body scales are out already here even within older generations.

Clean technology, which has been spread everywhere, as limited natural resources demand a drastic change of attitude towards consumption. In Japan clean technology can be seen as a competitive advantage, as one of the leading countries in the world when it comes to cut wastes and optimize industrial resources.

As I’ve noticed in Paris, EV seem to be a very big market, and watching the news this week, there is some shortage of gas in same areas of France, including the capital, which means new solutions can find a huge demanding market.

In Japan, there are already more gas stations for electric cars than petrol stations: 35 k (gas x) 40k for EVs (able to charge 80% of the entire battery in minutes), with a network of around 6.469 plugs all over the country. The Guardian posted this article recently and shows how willing Japanese population is to change habits, as government subsidies for people buying electric and hybrid cars have boosted the network of charging points.

 

According to you, what is the next big thing in IoT coming from Japan?

That’s a very interesting question and I’m afraid I might name only one ‘thing’.

But as McKinsey & Company study ”Profiling Japan’s early EV adopters” about  “Automotive &Assembly”, automated vehicles seem to be the future, as a next step of EV, with some lessons learnt from it.

I would risk to saying moving from a consumer-oriented purpose to industrial uses, particularly in robotics, where there is still a huge opportunity for growth.

 

What are you looking to find at Connected Conference?

I’m looking forward to connecting with innovators who share common interests and goals.

My main focus is promoting our customised one-to-one mentorship, as we have changed our original plan for 2016. The fact that we’re still a startup gives us more freedom to talk to our startups, understand their needs and adapt our services according to what they’re looking for. We have been in touch with some startups who requested an accelerator that wouldn’t required such a long and fixed physical attendee commitment as the main players do.

Makers Boot Camp is now working on a new format: a one-to-one customised hardware mentorship in order to offer start-ups a cost-effective Design for Manufacturing small production (10 to 1000 pieces), as most of them don’t have a lot of resources to produce in large scale.

Most startups have struggled to follow a fixed schedule for hardware accelerator programs, so we made it simple for makers who’d like to get the best out of our structure, and applications will stay open anytime of the year, for both Japanese and foreign startups.

This is only possible because we have a network of manufactures willing to provide mentorship anytime of the year to guarantee a “harder, smarter, better, faster, stronger.”

We can maximize our efforts and contribute to our series of meet ups as way to network and interact with our community. Our First Meet Up at MTRL Kyoto was a delightful chance to bring all together: their Senior Businessman joined early stage startups to talk about ways to improve our quality of life.

Expanding our partnerships worldwide is another long-term goal: right now we have SoftBank- Orange Group, BrainPortal, FabFoundry(NYC), HWTrek (Taiwan), N15 (South Korea), and of course attracting more investors to help us grow.
 
The conference will take place May 25th to 27th in Paris. Attendees (product-builders, innovators, distributors, journalists, partners & investors) from 50 countries (Europe, Asia & the Americas) are expected to explore the convergence of Internet and Industry for this 3rd edition. Check out the speakers list, and get your tickets on Eventbrite!