Hello Future in Shanghai
Bringing together the innovation community of Shanghai, Explorium SH hosted Hello Future in collaboration with TechNode on May 31. The event featured talks and panels by a cross-section of entrepreneurs and corporate innovators and leaders, including from WeWork, Walmart, Google, BMW, and Farfetch.
A few themes emerged around how we work with communities and ecosystems, niche markets and what’s happening around IoT. And not just IoT. In general, relevant use of technology came up multiple times. AI, as an example, is still a mostly mechanical technology as Chen Qianjiang from Tuya and Jack Yao from Google discussed. There are still many misunderstandings around AI, which has been around for 30 years, for example that it is a “general AI” where robots actually understand humans (which we’re still far from, according to Yao). In the next 5–10 years, AI will remain mostly “mechanical” according to Yao from Google. Whatever the technology, “people don’t want to be lab rats... Consumers are not always ready,” explained Chen. “Now you have to actively command smart IoT devices. In a more helpful future, it will understand you first.” Always fun to discuss technology’s (mis)applications.
The annual Hello Future Summit, Explorium Shanghai’s largest annual event, brings together thousands of innovation activists to explore the future of fashion, lifestyle and technology. Featuring over 30 speakers and 35 participating companies, the event included a full-day conference at the main stage, two exhibition zones, and a full-day “startup demo” area, attracting more than 2,000 attendees. The conference was also live broadcasted globally, reaching over 130,000 views from audiences around the world.
Alan Ai, GM of WeWork China, shared the company’s view that the boundary of work and life will become more and more obscure in China. “The next generations’ needs at work are very different,” he said.
Mr. Ai went over how some of the major trends of China, from a WeWork perspective, such as urbanisation, generational change, and technology are changing the game. The view is that, in China, urban citizens born after the year 2000 will grow up with very different habits than previous generations. “996” (work 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week) will be commonplace and will change work/life patterns. Technology, of course, is what enables the company to understand urban communities across geographies very quickly – based on bars, restaurants, etc – and WeWork diligently analyses exactly how people use and move in their co-working spaces. The interior design is iterated based on this data and the data is commercialised for corporate clients. In fact, WeWork has more than 2000 designers around the world and claim to be able to cut corporate space costs by 30%, due to their data and iterative approach.
WeWork in China feels their mission to “create a world where people work to make a life, not just a living” is good sense and good business in a modern workplace where promoting “collaboration and innovation can boost efficiency to the next level.” Every one of the 500 WeWork locations has at least one event every day, typically labelled as either personal growth, a collaboration, or talks organised by members that essentially become content creators and promoters of WeWork. The company even organise annual summer camps to corral the community.
Paul Wong from Explorium Shanghai, together with Andy Lei from Walmart’s Omega8 open innovation initiative, talked about how corporates can adopt new technology from startups. For Paul, this is not simply about working with one startup but rather working on “building an ecosystem of startups.” Lots of blindspots to cover on the corporate side, like starting with painpoints before going to solutions (we will be writing more about this in the future), but also on the startup side. “Startups are very good at tech but do they really understand innovation in the supply chain?” asked Paul Wong, the VP of Innovation at Explorium Shanghai. “… maybe not, so we give them courses in supply chain to open them up to more relevant solutions.” Explorium can also bring Chinese technology and innovation to the world. At Walmart, despite the current turmoil between China and the US, China’s strategic position is still growing higher than ever. “Before China was just an execution center,” said Andy. “Now its a growth center.”
On the topic of changing patterns, Hello Future also touched on how to excel in a consumer market of increasing market segmentation and innovation. The growing Seesaw Coffee chain is targeting an upscale niche and see the fragmentation of consumer needs as irreversible. Sally Wu from Seesaw Coffee and Yan Liu from ZaoZou, both Marketing Directors, in each of their ways both expressed that there are many Asian niches and that there are profits to be gained through niche-serving brands. Yan Liu from ZaoZou, the Chinese furniture company, also pointed out how product innovation can happen uniquely and at scale by using the Chinese production ecosystem.
Another ‘mass niche’ is the luxury retail market. Alexis Bonhomme from Farfetch described how the company has managed to become the global leader in luxury goods sales by developing a platform that integrates with various store stock management systems and distributes directly from the stores to the end consumers. Farfetch doesn’t hold any stock. The positioning in China is “to be the #1 destination for luxury and fashion enthusiasts,” according to Bonhomme. Farfetch is even starting a ‘second life’ platform for sustainability where consumers get credits from Farfetch for selling back products, such as handbags.
Connected products on the internet of clothing.
As 5G and blockchain are still gaining attention and new applications, the IoT conversation is also having a comeback. VeChain is mapping multiple supply chains and believes in “blockchain changing the future of fashion,” as Sunny Lu, Cofounder and CEO pointed out. “Your products become a new way to talk to your clients and do storytelling. It goes beyond fashion, all industries are looking to blockchain for competitiveness.” VeChain has worked with Arket, Fuji Tea, Nike and others and deliver unique product IDs, traceability over supply chains, digital content and 3rd party content.
Janela, the Avery Dennison initiative that puts connected labels onto products from brands like Nike, Adidas and Hugo Boss, also showcased. Avery Dennison has struck a deal with the “Facebook for things” firm Evrythng to create unique web identities for at least 10 billion pieces of apparel over the next three years.
To learn more about China’s innovation ecosystem around future supply chains and retail, check out Explorium’s links below.