Talk notes: Hardware Startup Opportunities in Europe

Josh Liu Hardware Europe Header

The Taiwan Startup Stadium put together an event yesterday, where Josh Liu of HardwarePro and Source Institute was discussing issues regarding hardware startups, with a focus on cross-continental lessons to be learned between Europe and Asia (and Taiwan in particular).

Here are some notes on what I have picked up at the event from Josh’s talk and the answers to audience, paraphrased (not necessarily 100% correct or agree with my views:).

Complementary Skills

Europe (and UK in particular) is strong on design, while manufacturing skills are harder to come by. Taiwan teams are generally strong on manufacturing and development but weak on design. There are lots of opportunities for co-operation and learning from each other, working together.

For example European startups might know how to raise a lot of money on crowdfunding platforms but they tend to run out of cash before they get to launch properly. Taiwanese startups might raise a lot less money but it can last them till launch – even though they might be a lot slower to launch. Bringing together European knowledge of consumer facing skills and Taiwanese development savvy can potentially create projects that are both well funded and do deliver.

Areas of Growth

The main centers of hardware innovation are London, Berlin, and Paris closing in on 3rd place. If he’d need to look further, Josh considers emerging areas of the North: Estonia and Finland, where a lot of ex-Nokia hardware gurus are building things.

EU has a long history of high level, large scale manufacturing (due to aerospace industry, Nokia, &c), while Eastern Europe is trying to get in now on technology manufacturing. Their skills are currently behind Shenzhen in general, but simpler designs might work well already, and they are constantly improving.

Trends

Bottom-up innovation is more common, where makerspaces, universities, different hardware communities are creating their own solutions and new products. There are some examples of top-down innovation going well, such as some high-end department stores running their own hardware accelerators, in the hope of being the first to tap into interesting new products.

The EU marketplace is generally considered fragmented, which is very bad for software products, for example, but hardware can be largely language agnostic. This can give an edge to hardware startups of the region that are not obvious for people who are working in other industries.

Financing

Whether it’s an European team planning to go to Asia (Shenzhen, Taiwan, Singapore…), or an Asian team going to Europe, need to know your objectives! Teams are often just chasing the money, while savvy startups follow the customers instead.

The UK startup scene is much better known for FinTech innovation, and investors like what they know — and hardware they don’t know yet. Most successfully funded European teams follow the pattern of “easy hardware and hardcore software to make it powerful”. That is a more familiar model to VCs, and got them more engaged. It also maps better onto their better design chops. This might work well for a while, and for some teams, but should change in the future. In general there’s a lot of talk and little action (yet).

Investor’s in China on the other hand know a lot more about hardware and can bring big volume (due to the size of the country). For some teams it would then make more sense to go after Chinese money than European to fund their ventures.

Josh also outlined Taiwan’s potential benefit over Shenzhen as a base or collaborative partner. Taiwan is more serious about IP protection which concerns a lot of founders, the cost of living is comparable or better as Shenzhen is becoming very expensive both to live and to run a business, and Taiwan has a comparable or better location being more international-focused due to her smaller internal market.


Josh’s message ties in very well with our view at VIA too. It’s not just startups who need to collaborate across continents to get the right resources and complementary skills to get their projects done. Medium and large companies are facing similar issues, and quite often the stakes are also a lot higher too. This is why we have started to develop our hardware and software engineering services, becoming better partners in others’ development.

Our engineering teams based around Taipei and Hsinchu in Taiwan, and in Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing in China to make the most of the technological ecosystem. Most of our designs on the other hand originate in the US, Europe and Japan so far (but other regions, including China are up and coming). We see the similar issues and similar wealth of opportunities as Josh highlighted, which makes a very exciting industry to work in.

If you have a hardware development project where you think we might be able to help you, talk to us at embedded@via.com.tw!