PCH’s Liam Casey On The “Renaissance Of Prototyping”

Liam Casey is best known as “Mr. China,” the founder and CEO of PCH, which sources, designs and manufacturers custom hardware for Fortune 500 companies and startups in Shenzhen. Before founding PCH in 1996, however, he spent 10 years in the fashion business. Now Casey is excited to see a “renaissance in prototyping” that makes creating hardware prototypes almost as easy as sewing fabric into garments, he told TechCrunch’s John Biggs today at Disrupt SF.

This has allowed a new wave of hardware startups to emerge, including ones like Blaze, Drop, and Ringly, that have participated in Highway1, PCH’s incubator program.

“When I was in fashion, I would go to a fabric mill and buy rolls of fabric, take it to a contract manufacturer and you could make any garment you want. When I got into hardware, we had to wait months, years for new technologies and innovations,” said Casey.

“Product innovation in the hardware space is extremely challenging. In the technology world we have product roadmaps and that can really slow down the whole process from an idea to being ready for the consumer.”

Tools like 3D printing, modules by littleBits (a PCH partner), and Arduino, however, have allowed a “renaissance in prototyping” to emerge. “There’s an energy and creativity around physical goods and what we look for is entrepreneurs that want to build companies around that,” said Casey.

Operating a hardware incubator forces PCH to stay nimble because startups think differently from large companies.

“In this space, inexperience is a phenomenal innovator. Entrepreneurs ask ‘why can’t I take it direct from the manufacturing line to consumers anywhere?’ Traditional companies wouldn’t ask that question because they have too much experience. We like the whole disruption that comes with the incubator space, Highway1, and the way entrepreneurs think,” said Casey. “When they say ‘why can’t we do it,’ we have to think hard about why we can’t.”

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