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7 question to Ben Wong, Head of Global Sources Direct at Global Sources

Startup Launchpad — Bringing together the hardware startup community into one tradeshow

1. What were the initial ideas behind Startup Launchpad? 

Surprisingly we have not deterred too much from the initial objective of Startup Launchpad. We saw at the time that while there were a lot of organizations supporting startups during their beginning stages, it was the complete opposite for later stage startups that needed help with manufacturing and distribution. Given our history of nearly 5 decades in these sectors, we put together an MVP in the fall of 2015 with 38 startups in the Global Sources Electronics tradeshow and it was a hit amongst startups and international buyers. Buyers needed to source new products outside of traditional OEM products, and the startups were in the forefront in the hardware technologies they offered. It was a great match, and to date, we’ve had nearly 700 startups exhibit with us.

2. What are the event’s main takeaways for attendees?

For the 60,000+ buyers who frequent our shows twice a year in Hong Kong, they get an incredible experience by having access to technologies outside of their current scope. While they hear a lot about IoT, sports tech, med tech, VR/AR, and other up and coming sectors, they don’t typically get the opportunity to procure these products at home. We’re changing that by bringing together the hardware startup community into one show, twice a year in Hong Kong, during the international sourcing periods.

In the meantime, we also run a conference program and workshop simultaneously to our tradeshow that covers topics around the hardware startup journey, from ideation and distribution to raising funds and exit strategies. Attendees of our conference + workshop programs are expected to leave with actionable learnings that they can apply to their hardware businesses.

3. Startup Launchpad can connect startups to 63,000 buyers and 6,000 manufacturers. What struggles do startups usually face when attempting to connect with manufacturers, suppliers and vendors?

For most startups, working with a manufacturer is already difficult — now add the component that the manufacturers are most likely in China where natural friction points occur, i.e. language, distance, procedures etc. Once that’s solved, understanding why manufacturing is closely tied to distribution strategies is another hurdle. The distribution channels still operate in a traditional manner and factors that determine the success of a product will include pricing, packaging, supply chain management, product pipeline and more — all of which will be closely aligned with manufacturing strategies. 

We often find that startups don’t understand the distribution channels and the margins required in each channel — and by the time that they do understand, they realize that they need to go back to their manufacturers and find ways to cut their costs, while also incurring more operational costs.

4. How do you go about devising a marketing strategy, voice and online presence for Startup Launchpad, which covers the broad topic of hardware? Are there different marketing messages for the different industries?

Fortunately for us, the hardware startup community is very much clustered. In Asia for instance, a lot of hardware startups have to manufacture their products in hubs such as Shenzhen (China) and Hsinchu (Taiwan). As a result, we organize a lot of mini events with topics on manufacturing and global distribution which typically draw a large crowd. Similar topics are also distributed through our online channels, i.e. our website, social media, eDMs, and of course, with the help of supporting organizations in the ecosystem.

5. Global Sources is uniquely positioned as a showcase for corporates, startups and entrepreneurs. How do you convince prospective sponsors and partners to work with you?

A lot of this process is maintaining a close relationship with all parties to understand what they seek for in an event like Startup Launchpad. By understanding their needs and also understanding market changes, we introduce new programs at our event to meet their expectations and metrics.

6. What are three things you’re most looking forward to for this autumn’s event and why?

1.)We have 240 startups exhibiting, and they come from 14 different countries

2.)1-on-1 sourcing meetings that we’re arranging for startups to meet with international buyers

3.) Our revamped tech conference with international thought leaders sharing their experiences in multiple stages of the hardware startup journey

7. Having worked with many startups at Startup Launchpad what is your personal advice to aspiring entrepreneurs? 

1.) To all the hardware startups out there, it is essential to think about your pricing and distribution strategies before you start manufacturing.

2.) Remember that 90% of consumer spending still happens offline, especially for new technology products

3.) Beware of product lifecycles, buyers source multiple times a year for a reason. Get your product pipeline up and ready ASAP!

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