Investment turns ideas into reality [China Daily: Hong Kong Edition]
(China Daily: Hong Kong Edition Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Strangers fund projects from technology to music - and more
From personal art projects to technology-heavy entrepreneurial ventures, the appeal of crowdfunding is widespread. People who have used this platform to turn ideas into tangible projects say they were surprised by the response of total strangers from around the world.
One of them is Jason Gui, the 23-year-old cofounder and chief technology officer at Vigo. Gui is using crowdfunding to take his product - imagined while he was a university student in the United States - to a manufacturing facility in China and, using capital raised online from around the globe, is looking to reach out to people.
Capital can make it possible for young entrepreneurs like Gui to turn ideas into reality.
"I've always known that I'd become an entrepreneur," says Gui. "I have many ideas, but none of this would have happened if I didn't actually get off to do it."
Originally from China, Gui went to the US to study and eventually graduated with a degree in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and another in economics from the university's Wharton School.
"Many engineers don't know how to present their works to the market," says Gui. "Knowing one day I would have my own products, I chose to combine marketing and engineering."
Last December, Gui and classmates Drew Karabinos and Jonathan Kern launched Vigo on the popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter.
Vigo is a Bluetooth device for wearing on either ear that helps keep users awake. Connected to a smartphone application, the device records the movement of the wearer's eyeball, runs the collected data and compiles an energy chart indicating the time of day the user is most energetic and when they might be getting tired.
The device can make recommendations, such as when to exercise or when the user has been sitting too long.
Vigo also wakes users if they are dozing off with a sound, vibration and an LED light. Gui and his colleagues believe the device may be most useful for drivers, students and office workers.
"The idea comes from the fact that we always fell asleep in class. I wanted to make something to help keep me awake," says Gui.
A professor suggested the device had greater commercial potential because dozing off is a major cause of car accidents. He encouraged Gui to pursue it. So, after graduating, Gui applied for several incubator projects for Vigo. A hardware incubator company, HAXLR8, accepted them.
HAXLR8 sent them to its base in Shenzhen in Guangdong province, a city known for rich hardware manufacturing resources. The three-month project allowed Gui and his team to improve their product and set the foundation of their fast-growing team that is now based in San Francisco.
But actually managing a company can be a daunting task for a new graduate, so he took three internships: One at a company with five employees, another at a company with 50 staff and a third at a company with 5,000 people.
Just before graduation, Gui was interning at a pioneering software company in California when he noticed that more than 90 percent of lower level employees, such as development and testing engineers, were either Indian or Chinese.
"I began to realize that Indian and Chinese people are very good at developing things but know little about management," he says.
Paying special attention to his manager's work and the work of his manager's supervisor, Gui decided to write directly to the CEO and ask for a meeting.
To his surprise, the CEO at one of the most admired software companies in the US agreed to meet him for a chat. They talked for 15 minutes about corporate management and Gui's thoughts on the company.
After the meeting, he discovered that the top people rarely have the time or the opportunity to communicate with ordinary employees. Some managers had never even met the CEO. He then e-mailed the firm's entire senior management team and asked for personal meetings. He has used much of what he learned from them in developing Vigo.
But it was not the crash course on management that solved the company's need for capital. Crowdfunding did that. Crowdfunding through Kickstarter allowed Vigo to raise $57,365 as of early February from 635 backers.
Through another website, the China-based Demohour, the trio raised a further 60,772 yuan ($9,975) from 160 backers who could contribute between $5 and $5,000. About a third of the backers put up $79 in exchange for a new Vigo.
The funds will help the team produce the first batch of Vigos. The money will be used on injection molds for the casings, building the electronics and hiring developers to perfect the product.
For China Daily
From left: Jason Gui, Drew Karabinos and Jonathan Kern, the three cofounders of Vigo. Their device monitors users' levels of tiredness and attracted funding through Kickstarter and Demohour. Provided to China Daily
(China Daily 03/10/2014 page15)
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