Nutrigene in Shenzhen

At nutrigene, we are passionate about making it easy for everyone to have access to high quality nutrition and optimize health. We have built a countertop device (like a ‘nutrient espresso machine’) that enables consumers to produce their own personalized liquid vitamins, on-demand in the comfort of their home.

Last November, I had the fortune of meeting Make in LA’s Noramay Cadena who approached us during Demo Faire at Singularity University at NASA Ames Research Center where we pitched the latest batch of exponential tech-based companies focused around creating 10⁹+ global impact.

Demo Faire final pitch at Singularity University

She recommended applying to the Female Hardware Founders Award which enables the founder to travel to Shenzhen, China on a tour to visit manufacturers and understand the hardware manufacturing ecosystem. Catch was, the deadline to apply was within the hour!

Needless to say, I made the deadline and had the incredible opportunity to go on the tour with Make in LA and Brinc.

The timing was perfect, as we were in the earlier prototyping phase and wanted to investigate the requirements for setting up manufacturing and distribution for our consumer product (i.e. estimate price points for materials) and assess potential contract manufacturers (CM) we could partner with.

The trip schedule was fully packed, from visiting Huaqiangbei, the world’s largest consumer electronics market, to coordinated site tours with contract manufacturers such as Kaifa to scheduled evening socials to networking with other hardware founders.

It was valuable to understand the manufacturing ecosystem in Asia, and how much preparation work is needed prior to working with a CM such as having a finalized BOM (bill of materials) which includes not only your materials for product production but packaging, schematics, test plans and more. Visiting the production lines at the various CMs also enabled us to better understand what it takes to do production in China.

Quality control at one of the CMs

What was really invaluable were the connections facilitated by Make in LA & Brinc, through lessons learned from other hardware companies further along (i.e. they’ve completed production post crowdfunding campaign launch), and availability from experts such as Michael Corr and Simon Zhang to do ‘deep dive’ sessions on each of our companies’ biggest challenges ahead in between our many bus rides between company tours. For instance, we were able to better understand the level of preparation required to effectively engage with contract manufacturers, and how critical it is to think of the scaled-up production version of the product as early as the prototyping phase.

Also, as a female founder-dominated company, connecting with other female founders has been empowering and inspiring. There are already few female tech entrepreneurs, and hardware female entrepreneurs are even fewer. I have already met with challenges as a female tech founder, and with the unique challenges to building a hardware company, having a network of female hardware founders to keep in touch to validate ideas and thoughts has been insightful.

Overall, this trip made us better understand the potential of manufacturing in China. As a hardware startup, it’s never too early to consider manufacturing relationships in order to effectively prototype design for production-scale earlier and save the headaches later. Hardware is hard, and it became very evident of the need of hardware-specialized programs such as Make in LA and Brinc to guide startups to maximize chances of success in the market.