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Entrepreneur from Canada finds home from home in Shenzhen

By Chai Hua in Shenzhen, Guangdong | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-18 08:20

"In the first week we got here, we completely changed our design," said Asif Khan, from Canada, who is now starting his own business in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.

Khan is working on new molding technology that can automatically change its surface so that manufacturers can quickly and easily adjust their moldings.

The core of his design is the "PinPress", a cube, as small as a ping-pong ball, with many metal pins inserted in it.

Manufacturers only need to program their computer for the shape they require, and the pins will be adjusted accordingly.

When they need to produce another shape, they just change the design on the computer.

The device seems simple, but the difficulty is how to power these pins to move. In Khan's original design, he used a high electric current, but if it is too high, the pins tend to melt or get burnt.

He said the challenge was to find the balance of different variables, such as the amount of electricity and the size of the pin.

Now he uses magnets inside 3-mm-wide pins and a lot less electricity, which solved his problem. "In the beginning, we were not even using magnets because they were too big and expensive in Canada," he said.

But he found China has the technology to make small magnets, not too small but just the right size for the PinPress, and the cost is much less because it can be mass-produced.

Khan came to Shenzhen for the first time in July 2015. "When I came here, I was surprised there were so many things we could do," he recalled.

Then he went back to the University of Waterloo in Canada to finish his master's degree in various mathematical solvers, after an undergraduate degree in Nanotechnology Engineering.

In the September 2016, he and some of his classmates came to Shenzhen again with HAX Accelerator, one of the world's largest hardware incubators.

With offices in Shenzhen and San Francisco, HAX has incubated more than 130 startups and above 90 percent are international teams.

The HAX community helped Khan to find small contractors. "They are willing to do small and quick work for us, which is a big support for startups," he added.

"What cost us seven weeks and about 10,000 yuan ($1,480) to do in Canada, takes us three or four days to do it here and costs us about 2,000 yuan. Much cheaper and much faster," he added.

However, it was not low costs that attracts him the most, but "if you would like to spend a little bit more money, then you can get a really good product," he said.

"I love Shenzhen because, as an engineer, I like to make things," he said, "and it is so easy to make new things here. Sometimes I am bored and come up with a new idea, we can just make it."

For example, he is working on a smart baseball that can record all motion data. He is a huge baseball fan and also teaches local children to play baseball in Shenzhen.

However, he also noticed the downside is that many young entrepreneurs in Shenzhen change their startup ideas too quickly as it is so easy to start a new project.

In addition, he also loves the convenience brought by e-commerce in China and he is so good at shopping online that he is considered a "Taobao expert" in the office. When people in the HAX office want to buy something, they come to Khan.

"Though I know only a little bit Chinese, I have a really good technique on how to use Taobao, such as translating the page and finding the right words in Chinese to search for what I want," he said.

Khan is just one of the foreign entrepreneurs in Shenzhen, a city that has been vigorously establishing "China's Silicon Valley" with strong financial and policy support for startups. Khan's team once won a competition organized by the local authorities for a prize of 50,000 yuan.

In addition, many international incubators, such as the world famous Fabrication Laboratory (Fab Lab), have been established in the city, bringing more and more foreign innovative projects and teams.

Khan's plan is to stay in China as long as he can. He already teamed up with the local molding association for long-term cooperation.

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