10 June 2016
Offering tuition in everything from woodwork to 3D printing and providing co-working spaces for creatives, the makerspace movement is gaining traction in Hong Kong.
An affordable alternative to office space for freelancers and entrepreneurs alike, the facilities are sometimes referred to as “hacker spaces,” as these environments encourage users to “hack” in order to overcome the problems associated with establishing new concepts or products.
Examples of such spaces in Hong Kong include Dim Sum Labs, whose Maker Monday and Hackjam events host activities ranging from robotics and coding to screen-printing and model-making. Co-working space MakerHive has several locations, including Kennedy Town, Wan Chai and Sai Kung.
Collaborate and Educate
Among the newest addition to the makerspace scene is Three Keys craft space, which opened in Chai Wan, an area that’s already home to photography studios and creative start-ups. Founder Rocky Yip, who also co-founded branding and graphic design company Entendre Studios, says the 3,500-square-foot space is attracting a diverse group, from illustrators to inventors. “Our goal is to not just provide the space, but also the opportunities for professional makers to connect, collaborate and work," he says.
Three Keys’ open studio space provides illustrators and architects with room to lay out detailed plans on paper, while the workshop is dedicated to wood and metal. A textile space with sewing machines and drafting tables, meanwhile, provides room for budding fashion designers to work with in-house fashion designer Jade Yip, founder of 1940s inspired womenswear clothing line Doll Dizzy.
Recent events at Three Keys include a Mother’s Day workshop to create a wooden jewellery box, while a workshop on wet plate collodion photography, hosted by US fine-art photographer Andrew Crane, discussed the history and theory behind the process and its relevance today. “With photography so popular in Hong Kong and not many people aware of the tintype photography process, we thought it would be a well-received introduction to this old forgotten technique. We also want to incorporate a broad range of creative disciplines in our series of workshops to help cultivate the creative community,” says Mr Yip.
Launched in January, another makerspace, MakerBay, is located in Kowloon’s Yau Tong district. “The area was chosen mainly because we needed an industrial space that is affordable and accessible. Yau Tong is only one stop away from Quarry Bay [Hong Kong Island] on the MTR and two stops from Kwun Tong [Kowloon],” says Managing Director Fiona Ching.
MakerLab was set up to give the creative community tools, equipment and space to work so they can experiment, collaborate and build the makerspace ecosystem in Hong Kong, says Ms Ching. “We have a 1,000-square-feet workshop with equipment for 3D printing, laser-cutting woodwork and metal work, among others.” There are six studios, including four that are either 75-square-feet or 100-square-feet in size and priced at HK$6,000 and HK$9,000 respectively.
The wood and metal workshops are very popular as this is among the few spaces in Hong Kong to offer such courses. “Other popular classes include 3D printing, drone building, [electronics prototyping platform] Arduino and pallet furniture-building.” Ms Ching says that workshops have attracted inventors and start-ups alike, with scientists, engineers, artists and craftsmen among its users.
Collaborating with other makerspaces in Hong Kong is key, says Ms Ching. “We have a very good relationship with other stakeholders in the maker ecosystem in Hong Kong and collaborate a lot – a member of Dim Sum Labs is one of our instructors for 3D printer-building, for example.” To grow the maker ecosystem in Hong Kong, it has also created a Maker Map of Hong Kong (makerbay.org/maker-map).
What sets MakerBay apart from other makerspaces is its focus on social and environmental impact. Its use of technology is not an end in itself, but is a means to solve social and environmental problems, says Ms Ching.
The Managing Director says MakerBay founder Cesar Harada – along with many hardware startup companies – chose Hong Kong as their base for a number of reasons. “It’s easy to set up companies here, and there’s an established financial and legal system, low tax level, an international community plus access to hardworking, flexible staff.”
Starting this month, MakerBay will host a series of events related to electric cars leading up to the Formula E event in October, including hackathons and a six-week summer car event to build a functional electric car. “We will display our work at the Formula eVillage during the racing weekend in October,” says Ms Ching.
Opportunities to Grow
Established in April in Quarry Bay, MakerLab focuses on the application of digital-fabrication technology to prototype IoT (Internet of Things), smart devices and hardware products. An in-house team of digital fabrication experts, architects and a computer science major are on hand to help makers bring their prototypes to market at the 1,700-square-foot space. One of its aims, according to co-founder Eda Chow, is to allow access to 3D printers and promote their use. “In terms of 3D printing, Hong Kong Kong is a little bit behind, so we want to get our members using it and have fun creating things,” she says.
The official prototype partner of start-up incubator NEST, MakerLab will be part of the DBS Accelerator next month, when several start-ups will come to Hong Kong to take part in the annual 12-week mentor-driven programme.
MakerLab’s typical clients are inventors who need machinery, particularly 3D printers. “It’s pricey to invest in a 3D printer and they are not easy to use, so we can provide a consultancy service for members,” she says.
MakerLab is in talks with MakerBay on how to collaborate. “We don’t have as much machinery as them, so we can refer members to their space if they are looking for, say, wood-working classes. We are not competitors but collaborators.”
Makerspaces in Hong Kong have huge growth potential, says Ms Chow. “In Taiwan, for example, there’s a very mature maker culture with many locations in town and at universities, and children learning 3D printing at school. Establishing makerspaces at schools and universities and maybe community centres and libraries, as in the United States, is key. We need to make sure ordinary people can access this equipment,” she adds.
MakerLab's partner, 3D printing solution company Stratasys is in talks with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University about setting up a fabrication lab, while MakerLab is keen to introduce makerspaces to schools that will house equipment such as 3D printers and laser-cutting machines. “We’re talking to some of the international schools in Hong Kong that want to know how they can include 3D [in their curriculum],” she says. The makerspace has hosted workshops for students at Pui Ching Primary School and in collaboration with AIA Edge, the insurance group’s innovation unit, providing a session on design thinking for its Young Entrepreneur Programme.
There are many advantages for makerspaces in Hong Kong, says Ms Chow. “The financial independence of Hong Kong means it’s a great environment in which to cultivate new products. It’s easy to set up a business entity and an office in Hong Kong; then there’s Shenzhen once you are ready to get prototypes. Once a product is ready to go into mass production, [start-ups and inventors] can head to Shenzhen again.”
As a mentor of Hong Kong Cyberport's Incubation Programme, Ms Chow collaborated with hardware IoT platform Ingdan.com at the Hong Kong International Entrepreneur Festival last December to create an art installation using advanced digital fabrication technology and 3D modelling techniques. “The art installation was a good example of how to make use of digital fabrication,” she says.
MakerLab will also attend Maker Faire Hong Kong – a grassroots event established last year to support the maker community – in November when it will host an introductory class on 3D printing.