Kwun Tong, Hong Kong — Shawn Frayne, inventor of the award-winning “wind belt” and co-creator of the Kickstarter-launched Solar Pocket Factory, is used to waiting. Lucky for me. The first time we met, I was running late. But there was Frayne, sitting calmly on the top step of the subway station stairs, typing away on his laptop in the gray November afternoon.
In Frayne’s line of work, patience is more than a virtue. While startups race their products to market, impatient for revenue, market share, returns, and exits, inventions can take serious time. Look, for example, at Frayne’s biggest moneymaker to date: reusable, inflatable packaging that he first dreamed up back in 2005. Frayne quickly assigned his invention to packaging giant Sealed Air Company, but the first commercial product, Wonderfil Wrap Inflatable Packaging, didn’t launch until late December 2012—a month after our meeting at the train station.
Waiting an extra 20 minutes for me? No big deal.
Frayne took me to the squat, industrial office tower where his company, Haddock Invention, is based. The building’s dominant design aesthetic, as in many Chinese buildings, is concrete and dust. Inside, though, a wall of windows cast sunlight onto an array of desks, workshop counters, power tools, prototypes, storage bins, and couches. Small art pieces and potted plants were scattered around the room, and the lab was in a pleasant state of disarray, as the team was doing a test build of a Solar Pocket Factory prototype.
Among the innovations that have come out of this room, the biggest might not be a product, but an idea: that in the future, innovation won’t happen under the big tents of deep-pocketed companies. Instead, it will happen through the collaboration of small, independent labs like this one.
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