Start-up boss plans to sublet large Yau Tong factory to fellow inventors

Start-up boss plans to convert cavernous Yau Tong factory building into 'Maker Bay' where engineers can sublet areas to create their products

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 March, 2015, 6:25am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 March, 2015, 6:25am

Never mind the din and the dust; engineering inventors who love to fashion things with their hands can now share an equipped "maker space" in a Yau Tong factory where creating a racket won't be frowned on.

For a fee, engineers and students are invited to join fellow inventor Cesar Harada, 31, at the cavernous, 6,500 sq ft place he has dubbed "Maker Bay".

Harada is already renting the unit, to manufacture boats with new shipping technologies that clients have ordered from his start-up, Scoutbots.

He came up with the idea of subletting it as a co-working platform as none of the city's many shared offices for start-ups was suitable for inventors whose work would fall under the heavy industry category.

"Maker Bay is a co-working space for makers," the French-Japanese inventor said. "We target companies doing research and development, as well as those that make prototypes."

Students need pay just HK$100 a day, while companies will be charged a few thousand dollars a month, depending on the floor size they occupy.

Co-tenants are free to use the on-site hardware Harada offers, including a laser cutter and 3D printers.

Maker spaces are by-products of the "maker movement", a concept popularised in 2011 that hails do-it-yourself creations over consumerism.

Hong Kong was unlikely to see the return of heavy industries, but it could ride on the movement by upgrading industrial estates to support high-end innovation work, such as robotics, Harada said.

The city is also ideal for foreign start-ups, as it offers simple procedures for company registration and visa application, on top of an efficient public transport network.

They could develop prototypes locally and link up with mainland Chinese manufacturers to make the final products, Harada said.

He already has one co-tenant, Looking Glass, a start-up that is supported by investment from Kickstarter, the world's largest funding platform for creative projects. Looking Glass creates 3D displays, solar panels and wind turbines.

Meanwhile, Harada is busy fulfilling orders for small, robotic boats that can sail to dangerous areas such as Fukushima - home to a nuclear power station that suffered a meltdown in the 2011 Japanese earthquake-tsunami disaster - to collect research data. The boats are fitted with shape-changing hulls that allow them to switch direction more smoothly.

The innovation helped Scoutbots win the grand award of InvestHK's start-up contest last year. It also drew attention from overseas investors, among them Ahti Heinla, a founding engineer of Skype who had moved on to developing robots designed for outer space missions.

With their financial backing, Harada will next take on the challenge of manufacturing an eight-metre ship.

Erwin Huang, president of the Information Technology Federation, welcomed the initiative. "Co-working spaces seem to be making some headway in the last few years," he said.

Francis Fong Po-kiu, founding chairman of the Association of Interactive Marketing, said high rents were an obstacle in developing Hong Kong-made products. "It is more suitable to do design than production here," he said.

Apart from space constraints, expensive machinery also make the concept of maker space difficult. "There are not that many people making ships in Hong Kong who can share the same machinery," Fong said. Making other products that involved metal were also costly, he added.