Think outside the box. Push the envelope. Meet the new genre of weekend warriors at Startup Weekend workshop!

Startup Weekend is a well-designed, well-executed, challenge-driven innovation workshop that sees many a novel product take shape from conception to completion, bolstered by mentor guidance along the way. I was honored to be invited to Startup Weekend Taiwan Hardware 2012, the latest and the very first hybrid software-hardware themed event held in Taipei September 14-16.

T.G.I.F.! The glorious Friday evening is the time to kick back, to bend some elbows and to party! So if you end up a couch potato watching TV at home, I’m quite sure the Almighty would be mighty disappointed. However, He’d give you a pat on the back if you choose not to unwind or horse around so much but instead join the latest trend of spending your hard-earned long weekend at one of the Startup Weekend workshops with gusto.

Startup Weekend is taking the world by storm. Turning your ideas into tangible products, commercially viable or not, is the gist that runs throughout the 2.5-day mixed tutored session and hands-on workshop. You may be one who thinks, “Equipped with bright ideas and unmatched creativity, I sure can set up my own business.” You sure can but before everything else, do yourself a big favor by getting yourself into the thinking mode of true entrepreneurs who are known for making value propositions out of nothing or for pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Taking place on Friday evening through Sunday evening, a single Startup Weekend event is just 54 hours in length. Within such limits of time, participants from all walks of life gather together to bounce their ideas around, divide into teams, go on brainstorming, take the pulse of users’ market, evaluate the market potential of the product to be invented, map out a business plan, and finally bring to light the brainchild each team has strived to achieve in mere 54 hours. During the brainstorming stage, experienced mentors (guests of honor invited by the organizer) provide individual teams with professional help and offer thoughts on each team’s project. And in the final stage, a panel of judges from related background will appraise each team’s final result based on pre-set criteria.

Taiwan boasts a hardware industry with hard-to-copy techniques, but we have failed to make the most of that advantage. Rarely had we thought about integrating hardware with software to create products of great market values. Just as importantly, how to magnify the industrial edge Taiwan possesses, namely the synergy derived from high quality, top-notch designing ability, quick delivery and other things, is also a topic we need to focus on if Taiwan wants to really stand out from the pack. We seem to have got all the right tools we need to make things happen, but we seldom gave a serious thought to the question of how to harness software and hardware in tandem. Fortunately, Startup Weekend Taiwan Hardware offers a great opportunity for software developers, hardware product designers, mechanical engineers, UI designers, and businessmen to pull together under one roof where all are urged to really think outside the box and truly push the envelope.

(Panel discussion. Left to right: Volker Heistermann the moderator, Richard Brown from VIA Technologies, WuFu Chen from Acer ID SoftCapital. )

You’d be amazed at how creative the participants were if you happened to be where the action was. Each team presented their hybrid hardware and software product sketches with great enthusiasm and confidence. They all had one thing in common: a clear idea about what they aimed to achieve.

Now came the make-it-happen moment. Product ideas getting the highest votes would get the first opportunity to build a team around it. Despite the time constraint, everything seemed to be working beautifully on a tight schedule. I’d describe the flow of the event as fast, efficient and not a beat was missed.

(12 teams racking their brains, trying to turn 12 great ideas into promising sellers.)

Most teams rushed to create a Facebook page to pitch their product ideas, display product sketches, demonstrate how the product was going to function, and exhibit their business plans. Some of the teams even had their 3D-printer prototypes out in a matter of 24 hours.

(This 3D printer turns drawings into prototypes, right on the spot.)

(Experienced mentors walk around offering help and advice.)

Judging Time:

Each team got 5 minutes to present their project to the judges, who are experts in their individual fields. Just introducing your product was not good enough, though. Each team was required to lay out their business plan and marketing strategies to convince the judges of the viability of their project. To impress the judges and the audience, winning presentation skills were in order.

Here are the top three winners generated by the Startup Weekend Taiwan Hardware.

3rd place goes to team Morning Tap, whose Tappy Page is a gadget that belongs to under a household faucet. Like an alarm clock, the device beeps nonstop at a preset time in the morning, and you have to rise from bed and turn on the faucet to shut down the water-controlled beeper. You have no choice but to wash up for the day then and there. What a wake-up call! Cool! 

2nd place goes to team SkinScale, whose Skin Scale is a portable widget for ladies that analyzes and grades the skin condition. Backed up by a new skin-scanning technique now in clinical trials, the smart device also records and compares your day-to-day skin conditions, heralding a new era of self-diagnosis in skin health management. Now that’s hip! 

1st place goes to team Dol. Dol, whose Dol Dol is a sensor-equipped doll which you can cuddle, kiss, pat or squeeze when you feel blessed, happy, lonely or blue. The doll will respond with shyness, anger, shrug, nod or sympathy. (Though not recommended, you may even slap or punch the responsive doll when you’re going ballistic. Warning: you could get donkey kicks in return.) Dol Dol is communicative as well. Talk to it and the message and associated emotions will be transmitted to your friends who have joined you through a dedicated App. Thus, they know right away that you’re in no mood for joking or that you’re in the mood to see a movie. No more misjudgment and offense. That’s mad sexy!

(For Chinese readers wishing to learn more about the top 3 winners: http://www.bnext.com.tw/focus/view/cid/103/id/24597)

I was blown away by the 12 demos in a row. Every single presentation was the mother of all innovations. They were all great ideas I never could have thought of myself and therefore true winners in my mind regardless of whether they won a prize or not. To all the participants, “being there, done that” is much more important than winning a prize.

(A new genre of weekend warriors leaves a trail where there was no path… Startup Weekend Taiwan Hardware winds up a huge success.)

An interview with James Hill on the sidelines of SW Hardware Taiwan:

(Startup Weekend’s Taiwan organizer: James Hill, a savvy and peppy fella.)

 SJ: Would you tell us a bit about you, your background, and how did you get involved with Startup Weekend?

James Hill: Like most westerners I came to Taiwan as an English teacher but quickly realized that a) that is a dead end job and b) I could provide more value in other areas of Taiwan’s society

As for my background, I studied International Business MBA in Taipei and then moved to the Institute for Information Industry (III), an NGO that supports and works alongside the IT industry in Taiwan.

I quickly realized that I could do more to spur entrepreneurialism in the software/Internet space, so together with Yushan Ventures brought Startup Weekend to Taiwan.

SJ: What comes to your mind when you look back on your SW journey?

James Hill: It was hard! We had to convince the community, tech businesses and government that Taiwan could launch startups in 54 hours too, and of course we were right. Teams like Vetter, Foodjing, RideMap, Drimmit are still going and many participants have found new co-founders, new jobs and certainly gained new inspiration and knowledge. So that’s good.

When we did the first one in Taipei, the naysayers said Taiwan couldn’t do it, when we did Kaohsiung, they said the south couldn’t do it and when we did hardware they said it’d only work for software.

SJ: Were your expectations in line with the outcomes from the SW events you hosted?

James Hill: I can honestly say they have been exceeded every time. The rate of teams that have carried on have so far matched the success rate of events round the world (36% after 6 months) so we’re pretty pleased with the success we’ve had.

SJ: Will you continue to front every SW event?

James Hill: Yes, I’m in it for the long haul. We’ve finished for 2012, but will be looking to host more next year. As I’ve joined a startup myself I will be taking a back seat role but will still attend the weekend and help promote it.

Sooper Jerry’s Note:

Next Startup Weekend innovation workshop will be held in Hsin-Chu in November. Enroll now at http://swhsinchu2.eventbrite.com/.

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