The hardware business is often more perilous than the software one — you’ve seen great results in prototyping, but when it comes to the mass-manufacturing stage many start-ups falter due to the high costs. Haxlr8r has smoothed the way forward for hackers — the accelerator chose the hardware candyland, Shenzhen, China’s long-time manufacturing center. One of Haxlr8r’s 2013 graduates Helios, who makes smart bike handlebar lights, lists five reasons why they think Shenzhen is the hacker heaven:

  1. You get everything you need for prototyping
  2. Everything is cheap
  3. You can always haggle (and it’s an amusing experience)
  4. Hacker-friendly and encouraging shop owners
  5. Things are delivered even before you need them

And there Helios was born, who later drove more than $120k on Kickstarter, far exceeding its $70k goal. The idea is this: now that we have high-quality LED lights, microchips and smartphone technology, why not integrate them to advance the biking experience? With both head- and taillights, the Helios handlebar connects to a rider’s smartphone via Bluetooth 4.0 and an iOS app.

With a built-in GPS, Helios tracks the rider’s path, gives directions, locates the bike in case it went missing, measures speed and turns the rear-facing light into a visual speedometer. The light scheme is adjustable and will automatically switch on when the rider approaches. Rechargeable with a USB cord, Helios lasts for 6 hours on the brightest setting. Basically, it tackles the most imminent problems a biker can sympathize with.

Along with Helios, nine other hardware start-ups graduated from Haxlr8r 2013 in July earlier. Hardware incubators and proximity to factories have helped hackers break with the traditional manufacturing model. Now the question ahead is: how will these hardware start-ups go about achieving commercial success? Let’s keep our eyes glued to the hackerspace.

Telling the uncommon China stories through tech. I can be reached at ritacyliao [at] gmail [dot] com.

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