HAXLR8R Opens a China-Based Accelerator for Hardware Startups

2/9/12Follow @wroush

Over the last week, 10 lucky companies have been getting the calls from HAXLR8R: they’ve been admitted to the inaugural session of the startup world’s newest venture incubator. Following the popular model pioneered by TechStars and Y Combinator, HAXLR8R will provide teams with a stipend of $6,000 per founder and about three months of mentorship, in return for a 6- to 10-percent equity stake. At the end of the session in June, companies will pitch their businesses to investors at a “demo day” in San Francisco.

There are just two big differences between HAXLR8R and all the other incubators. First, the program isn’t admitting software or Internet startups. It’s designed for companies building real stuff, rather than the usual mobile apps or consumer Web services. Second, it’s not actually located in San Francisco or any of the other typical U.S. startup hubs, like Boston, New York, or Boulder. In fact, it’s not even in the same hemisphere. HAXLR8R will gather its first class of startups at the Shiling Industrial Park in the Nanshan district of Shenzhen, a high-tech manufacturing city north of Hong Kong.

A recruiting poster for HAXLR8R

The theory behind the new program is that successful gadget builders—whether they’ve developed a toy, an appliance, or some kind of consumer device for health, fitness, or travel—will eventually have to figure out where to mass-produce their products. And chances are the answer will be China. Despite the new scrutiny being applied to U.S. consumer electronics companies over labor conditions in Chinese plants, China still has the world’s richest supply of low-cost manufacturing facilities, along with the engineers who know how to get them tooled up to make new things.

But to get something built in China, you have to know who to talk to, and the program at HAXLR8R is intended to smooth the way. Startups in the program will be “coming into an environment where they can work on their product and figure out how to manufacture it,” says Cyril Ebersweiler, one of the program’s co-founders. “They will get instant access to relationships which would take a year or more to develop on their own.”

HAXLR8R finished its selection process last week and began notifying the admitted companies. Ebersweiler says the program received “way more applicants than we expected,” from all over the world. The majority of the applications came from U.S. startups, but the organization also heard from companies in Europe, Asia, and India. The mix of applicants included “startup entrepreneurs, hackers, makers, and [people from the] open source movement; social entrepreneurs as well,” Ebersweiler says. “Most of the applicants have a working prototype.”

The 15-week HAXLR8R program starts on March 1. Teams will spend the first 13 weeks in Shenzhen, building their prototypes and gathering feedback from potential customers. Then they’ll decamp to San Francisco, where they’ll … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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