Unlocking passion and purpose – the entrepreneurial game-changer
Growing up in a farming community with little money, Jasen Wang had few opportunities to interact with electronic toys or computers. It was only when he got to university that he discovered robotics and became part of an emerging ‘maker movement’, enthused by the creative possibilities of technology.
After graduating, Wang threw himself into learning as much as he could about robotics, but found that it was difficult to get hold of the parts and the support he needed to feed his passion. In 2011, driven by a vision to share his newfound joy of invention and discovery, he founded Makeblock in Shenzhen.
Makeblock’s products give children and adults access to the skills and tools to thrive and create in an era where technological change is having profound effects on the societies and economies, and Wang has turned his passion into a global enterprise.
"Our vision is to make creativity a way of life. Many people are served by technology, but they cannot control it,” Wang says. “We want to change that, and enable them to use technology in a way that makes life better for them."
Getting started was far from easy. As a small businessman in a novel field, Wang found it hard even to find a supplier to manufacture his product. Factories did not want to take on the small order sizes that he needed to fulfil, but then he met another enthusiast, the same age as him, who became a partner in the business.
Building partnerships and networks has been a central part of Makeblock’s success, Wang says. As the company grew, he used a crowdfunding campaign to raise money and create awareness, which put him in touch with potential partners around the world, and introduced his concept to makers around the world. Their enthusiasm, and their creative uses for Makeblock’s products, have helped the company to grow internationally.
"A lot of work created by our customers is far more creative than what we do inside the company," he says. "That’s what we want to see. We lower the barrier of using technology, but we never know what they will create."
Makeblock has grown beyond the maker community and into classrooms around the world, buoyed by a global need to equip children with the skills that they will need for the Fourth Industrial Revolution—the rise of automation and artificial intelligence that will change the shape of the global economy and the labour force, and mean that many jobs will simply no longer exist.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will be global and will create new centers for technology and innovation.
Artificial intelligence will lead to huge disruption in employment. By 2020, AI may have eliminated 1.8 million jobs, but created 2.3 million.1
Wang wants children to understand early on that technology is not a threat, or a tool that they will have to use as part of a ‘boring’ career, but that it is a way to solve problems.
"It is very important, because we are helping to stimulate students' imagination and creativity, by teaching them how to control technology, rather than be controlled by it," he says. "Humans are not like other animals. We create new things, and creation is one of people's basic needs. Everyone is born with an ability to innovate, and at Makeblock, we are aiming to bring that out in every child."
There are huge risks in the disruption but also massive opportunities for ingenuity and imagination.
US$16 trillion predicted to be added to global economy by 2030 because of 4IR technology.2
It is an idea that has resonated. Makeblock’s technology has been used in 140 countries, getting into the hands of 4.5 million students. The company employs 450 people across Europe, the US, Japan, China and Hong Kong.
Across Asia, entrepreneurs are finding that combining technology and creativity to solve problems is not only fulfilling, but lucrative.
In China, unleashing this creativity has moved the country’s technology industry from one typified by 'copycats' of global products into one that is leading the world.
China is now the second-largest investor in AI.
26% of China's GDP is predicted to be generated by AI-related industries.3
Makeblock is one of a growing number of world-beating innovators in Shenzhen, from OnePlus, which is making affordable smartphones for low-income consumers, through to DJI, one of the world’s leading drone companies.
These businesses need to unlock creativity, not just in their customers but in their own employees, Wang says.
"I think the most important thing is to keep the culture of creation. I taught my people that Makeblock is a creator, not a follower. I encourage people to create new things, to explore new areas, to try new ways to make things better, and, at the same time, not to be afraid of making mistakes."
Staying creative and working in a business that feeds his passion has meant that Wang—a new father—is able to balance his family life and his work life, and to align his business and personal ambitions.
"In this digital era, there's no strict line between personal life and business… I am always able to find the balance. Creating is the thing that makes me happiest," he says. "I've been very lucky, because I have been able to turn my passion into a business, and also enjoy the value we create."
1. Gartner Newsroom 2017 (Global)
2. McKinsey Global Institute – Harnessing automation for a future that works 2017 (Global)
3. PWC – Sizing the prize. 2017 (Global)