Out of our Hatchery Accelerate (formerly Hatchery+) alumni, it probably won’t shock anyone that drone company Tekuma is the team that has spent most of the time in the air.

Entrepreneurs Annette McClelland and Michael Griffin of Cohort 2 have had a whirlwind year, with the last three six months seeing the pair visit China five times, Hong Kong four times and (by the time this article is published) the United States twice.

As part of their travels, the team travelled to Virginia to compete in the VT Knowledgeworks Global Entrepreneurship Challenge. More recently they were invited to be part of Hardware Heroes, a Global Sources’ Startup Launchpad initiative.

We managed to get around the firewall and chat to Annette while she was in Shanghai, on set filming for… well, read on and see.

What have been some of the highlights of your trip(s) so far?

Meeting dozens of hardware startups, checking out the factories in Shenzhen in China, getting more user feedback, and pitching on international stages in China, Hong Kong, and the US.

What are you doing in Shanghai?

We’re currently filming in Shanghai for “The Next Unicorn” which is a Chinese reality TV show similar to Shark Tank and The Apprentice. Last season, its first season, it was viewed by an audience of over 15 million.

Tell us more about being on Chinese reality TV!

In one week I experienced more hairstyles than my entire adult life! We were definitely a contestant to remember. We pitched to a dozen Chinese investors, competed in challenges against start-ups from Portugal, England and California.

We made some valuable connections but like anything, you just don’t know what these experiences could lead to in the future. As with all reality TV you really have to wait until it screens to determine what it means.

Annette pitching on The Last Unicorn

What’s the Hardware Heroes program? How did you get into it?

Startup Launchpad is Asia’s largest hardware trade show with over 5000 booths. They invited 10 hardware startups from all over the world to pitch, show a booth at their tradeshow in Hong Kong, go on factory tours in Shenzhen and also participate in the Hong Kong Science Park EPiC Elevator Pitch Competition.

The elevator pitch was awesome — they had 100 startups pitching for 60 seconds in a lift going up 100 stories. The startups came from more than 15 countries and spanned every industry. It was a challenge trying to focus on your pitch while your ears were popping!

What did you learn from the China/Hong Kong startup ecosystem? How does that compare to the US?

The ecosystems are simply so much bigger in the US and China — there’s so much more going on compared to Australia. For a start, investors in the US and China understand the market size of drones, and they are better prepared to back expensive upfront hardware than Australia. It all comes down to population. Shanghai, for example, currently has more people than the whole of Australia.

In Australia we’re very good at constantly going back to our customer for validation whereas in the US, selling seems to rule first. China is more interested in the innovation — how does this change the way we do things? One thing’s for sure of both China and the US — there is money everywhere.

You met some other hardware companies from across the globe — what have you learnt from them?

We found it comforting to hear that from founding, to first delivery of product, global experts said the average time frame was 30 months. Which means we’re on track to deliver within that time frame ourselves.

Hardware startups are happy to band together, share expertise, and complement each other’s innovation. All of us are doing this not only because we want to solve a problem, but because we love tinkering with tech. It’s always exciting to see the different routes people take with that.

Hatchery Accelerate Program Manager Joe Allen and Tekuma at VTKnowledgeWorks

You were also part of the VTKnowledgeworks Global Student Entrepreneurship Challenge — what was that experience like?

It was my first time in the US in more than 10 years, so it was a very different experience to visit as an adult and an entrepreneur rather than a tourist.

We met startups from all over the world, so it was great to observe what is considered hardware innovation in five other countries, as well as learn the legal and government hurdles they’ve had to overcome in their home countries.

What’s next for Tekuma?

We will return home to Sydney for about a week before I head off to San Francisco to check out Silicon Valley and the Bay area for the first time, finishing off my UTS MBA and participating in The Hacker Exchange program.

Over the last month, we’ve made solid contacts in Shenzhen that we are considering for manufacturing, particularly for our first testing alpha runs to gain further independent feedback from customers. Also, we’ve been determining the funds we have to raise and the best partners for us to work with to turn our prototype into a product (it’s time we stop bootstrapping!)

Otherwise, who knows what’s next. We can try to drive the car, but in China especially, you mostly just have to do your best to enjoy the ride, and usually, that can lead to the most interesting opportunities.

Our next teams of startups are about to get pitching soon! Hatchery Accelerate Cohort 4 Demo Day is happening on November 30 — get your ticket here.