Building the internet of things near you.

I’ve been asked to give a talk at BES Forum in Kuala Lumpur and  in addition to my slides I thought I’d try to blog about this one too. It’s an educational supplier conference, one where the British Council and UKTI boost the UK’s presence in education in Asia. It’s hard to think of these types of events as anything more than post-post-colonial and as a Canadian, I wanted to try to address some of the localised potential that the internet of things can have for Malaysia and also more broadly for any big city or country with industrial heritage. I’m also currently working with the Connected Economy Catapult to write up a feasibility report on a possible Connected Studio space for the development of successful connected products so my head is very much in the organisational requirements of iot. Useful in this and many other respects is the 1958 India Report where Ray and Charles Eames were asked to visit India and write about its economic future.

My travels in the past 2 months have lead me to Australia where I was able to convince (or bully) Justin into starting the #iotsydney meetup and Andrew to start the Melbourne edition and I hope to do the same in Kuala Lumpur (maybe the nice people at SensMaster will). There are lots of reasons why those 2 countries should be able to become hubs for internet of things products and companies but they aren’t the only ones. Generally I think any good iot community needs:

1. A space where capital, creativity and IT meet constantly.

Beyond the buzz, Shoreditch and East London are excellent places for innovation in the internet of things space simply because investors, designers and programmers are working within the same square mile (the missing link of course is a Cambridge connection which is why I think a free bus line between the 2 areas would be handy).This is extremely important to a multidisciplinary approach that is essential for the development of internet of things products and companies. In Kuala Lumpur, Cyberjava is 50 km away from the city. Government officials work in Putrajaya a planned city 25km away from town and other planned cities could mean that the serendipity that fosters collaborations is somewhat slowed down and dependant on events like BES which only happen yearly.

Meetups are a great way to create create this “third space” as the topic is so broad it tends to attract all sorts of people. The London iot meetup I run attracts investors, software and hardware developers, artists, architects and many more. Because it’s monthly it means there are people who are used to seeing with each other and engaging and possibly working together.

2. A close relationship between academia & industry

Dedicated Internet of things courses don’t quite exist yet (if you know of any ping me on @iotwatch on twitter) which means that universities that have technical courses have a lot to offer a marketplace full of ideas and crowdfunded projects . High value manufacturing, electronics design capabilities and supply chain design are skillsets that are lacking in the early stages of most iot startups. Instead of looking to large corporates to hire interns, a space for startups to have access to young technical talent in a way that goes beyond a voucher system and more IP neutral incubators would be great.

3. Access to early-stage consumer product friendly capital

This is the hardest nut to crack in the UK at the moment. I overheard an investor say that investing in consumer products was tricky because “they could be gone in 6 months”. Considering the rate of failure of online businesses I find that short-sighted. Most of the most successful product companies took many years to really embed themselves in people’s lives or become a preferred Christmas gift. The US’s sudden increase in incubators for connected products shows that they get it. Hopefully everyone else will follow. Angel investment in the connected product space is still a little sparse as you need a lot more than £10-£50K to get a product pre-industrialise. Perhaps the equity gap could be shortened with funds that specialise in these types of investments. After all all you need is a few key industrial partners to accelerate this. This is another chance for Asia to shine here as they have facilitated the production of consumer goods for many decades.

4. Coding & making for kids

You can’t train an entire industry up from the university upwards, you have to start much younger, which is why codeclub and other programs are key. It’s also a question of diversity. If 16 year olds can create products the rest of us want to use online, there’s no reason why hardware and consumer products should be any different.

I hope this is a little useful to anyone looking to build an internet of things ecology in their own country or city. There will be great changes in the industrial landscape because of it, and we really ought to have this come from the ground up.

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Founder of designswarm & the Good Night Lamp. Ex CEO of Tinker London.