Start-ups key to new tech iden­tity


As the COM­PU­TEX trade show opens its doors Tues­day in Tai­wan it is putting a new fo­cus on start-ups to boost the is­land’s tech cre­den­tials in the face of in­tense com­pe­ti­tion from ri­val China.

Tai­wan has hosted Asia’s big­gest tech trade show for 35 years and made its name as a hub of in­no­va­tion and en­gi­neer­ing in the age of the PC, man­u­fac­tur­ing com­po­nents and as­sem­bling com­put­ers.

More re­cently it has ben­e­fited from Ap­ple’s new iPhone6, launched last year, with a num­ber of lead­ing Tai­wanese firms such as Fox­conn and TSMC re­port­edly among Ap­ple’s sup­pli­ers.

The is­land is also one of the world’s big­gest sup­pli­ers of semi­con­duc­tors and is home to well­known in­dus­try play­ers, from com­puter maker Asus to smart­phone brand HTC.

But as China pushes to grow its own tech in­dus­try with the devel­op­ment of do­mes­tic smart­phone brands and home­grown hard­ware, in­clud­ing chips, Tai­wan is look­ing to smaller niche firms with new ideas.

Nine start-ups which COM­PU­TEX or­ga­niz­ers say have po­ten­tial to tap in­ter­na­tional mar­kets will be given a spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tion area at the show this year for the first time in a bid to raise their pro­file.

“We have to turn to a new di­rec­tion, with more in­no­va­tion, rather than mass man­u­fac­tur­ing,” says Li Chang, deputy sec­re­tary gen­eral of Taipei Com­puter As­so­ci­a­tion (TCA), co-or­ga­nizer of COM­PU­TEX.

He called on the gov­ern­ment to do more to sup­port fledg­ling firms.

“There might be a num­ber of young peo­ple who have cre­ative ideas and can man­age to turn them into in­no­va­tive prod­ucts, but ... they face dif­fi­cul­ties in rais­ing cap­i­tal and mar­ket­ing,” says Li.

Global Push

New Tai­wanese firm Mozbii, one of the nine start-ups se­lected, last year raised US$45,000 through crowd­fund­ing site Kick­starter for what it bills as the “world’s first color pick­ing sty­lus” — a hi-tech ver­sion of col­or­ing in.

A round sen­sor at one end of the sty­lus cap­tures the color of any ob­ject it is pressed upon.

The sty­lus then repli­cates that color when touched on a tablet screen, so chil­dren can fill in tem­plates or draw their own cre­ations.

“We have an en­vi­ron­ment here to de­velop things and the gov­ern­ment is start­ing to sense the im­por­tance of sup­port­ing start-ups,” says Mozbii CEO Jeremy Shu, who leads a team of eight.

“But push­ing the prod­uct to the world is dif­fi­cult.”

Shu says there needs to be a public “in­cu­ba­tor” to help en­trepreneurs with devel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing.

“Start-ups are grow­ing, but at a slow pace,” he says.

Mozbii’s sty­lus is al­ready on sale in Tai­wan and will be go­ing to Ja­pan and China this year.

At the other end of the scale, Asus crams in hun­dreds of in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors to its COM­PU­TEX prod­uct launches, com­plete with the­atri­cal film clips, boom­ing sound­tracks and cat­walk mod­els.

As it seeks to di­ver­sify away from PCs, Asus un­veiled its new ZenPad tablet and Zen­phone Selfie Mon­day — which in­cludes a “beau­ti­fi­ca­tion mode” to even out skin tone.

But the num­ber of Tai­wanese brands with global trac­tion re­mains limited, says Ralph Wieg­mann, CEO of Hanover-based iF In­ter­na­tional Fo­rum De­sign, which helps or­ga­nize the COM­PU­TEX de­sign and in­no­va­tion awards.

Wieg­mann says that com­pa­nies both new and old now need to de­velop long-term brand­ing strate­gies.

“Tai­wan is a strong in­no­va­tor, tech­nol­ogy (here) has al­ways been good.

“It’s brand­ing that’s the ma­jor chal­lenge — it’s a long-term is­sue and for many Tai­wanese and Asian en­trepreneurs long-term strat­egy is new.”

De­spite the hur­dles, Wieg­mann says the ever-ex­pand­ing tech in­dus­try is pro­vid­ing new av­enues for smaller firms and start-ups, with an in­creas­ing num­ber com­pet­ing for the de­sign and in­no­va­tion awards.

“It’s still not easy for them, but they find their niche.”

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