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From developing an automatic Wi-Fi cocktail maker that snagged the CES 2016 innovation award to rejecting several million dollars from an American billionaire, to making their European tech startup MatchX a success. Xin Hu, from China, has come a long way and has no plans to look behind. The EIT Digital Master School graduate is now working on executing his plans to use IoT and build a blockchain data market.
Recently, Silicon Canals received an opportunity to chat with the visionary young tech professional, and we took a deep dive into his exciting story of becoming a tech entrepreneur.
Where did it all start?
Xin Hu completed his bachelor’s in telecommunication and engineering in China and went on to explore the field of Internet of Things (IoT). Even after designing and developing IoT devices and co-authoring papers and patents for government projects, Hu wasn’t content. He wanted to learn more about the IoT industry and enrolled in the Internet Technology and Architecture programme at EIT Digital Master School at a half scholarship, even though he won a full scholarship at Erasmus Mundus.
CES innovation award
Hu penned an entrepreneurial thesis in the final year of his master’s, during his three-month internship at the IoT company Relayr. Immediately after finishing his thesis, Hu was offered a permanent role in the company and soon after, he was appointed in a leadership position for a team. This team developed an automatic Wi-Fi connected cocktail maker that won the CES 2016 innovation award.
The formation of MatchX
Leading a winning team drew the attention of several companies towards Hu and one of them was a Berlin-based startup. The company offered him the position of the hardware engineering lead developing LPWAN products, which he took up without another thought. “I was quite interested. LPWAN is great: it can reach over 20 kilometres in open space – much further than Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, while keeping battery life for up to ten years,” says Hu. “My team and I worked on enriching the world-class performance of the hard- and software aspects of LPWAN. In the future, a lot of things will be connected.”
While everything was going well, Hu was presented with an offer that was not an easy one to refuse. The billionaire and founder of the American company Ubiquiti, Robert Pera, offered ‘several million dollars in cash and stocks in the listed company’ for Hu and his team, if they would come to work for him in America. Hu says he couldn’t sleep for days before arriving at a decision but in the end, the team decided to reject the offer.
“The million-dollar offer was a low price for our knowledge. It would be a one-time trade in a huge market. If we sold our knowledge, we would have nothing afterwards in a market that is worth much more than that,” Hu notes. However, Hu and his team members had quit the startup and had no jobs and no funding.
Armed with only their knowledge, Hu and the team set out to get their own startup up and running. “After our talks with Pera, everything became clear; what the business idea and the model should be and how we could develop. We decided to make MatchX great with exceptional quality and a dream to be the global leader.”
Why EIT Digital Master School was a good decision!
Hu believes that the EIT Digital Master School had a great impact on his journey to be where he is today. Before becoming the CEO of MatchX, he studied his first year at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) and his second year at the Technische Universität Berlin. “You learn how to start a company and how to lead a team. The courses were really hands-on and I am really grateful for the lessons I learned from both the entrepreneurial and technical courses.” says Hu.
“The EIT Digital Master School taught me how to develop innovative products in a team and gave me the chance to present them to real world VC’s in Paris. In France, for example, I presented a project to Google.” Hu adds.
They got funding too!
The MatchX team commenced operations in February 2017 by manufacturing LPWAN hardware and software, and offering IoT cloud and reporting solutions. A high-level manager from Deutsche Telekom invested in the company the same month it was launched and in November 2017, MatchX bagged the Deep Tech Award 2017 and received ten thousand euros in prize money.
Further, MatchX secured €1.8 million in its Series-A round of funding in February 2018. An undisclosed German investor and the American investor Pre-Angel participated in the funding round. According to Hu, the company’s current valuation is around ten to twenty million dollars. The scaleup now has customers in over forty countries including Canada, US, Australia, India, Japan, Korea, South Africa and throughout Europe.
LPWAN and the Blockchain future
While starting out with MatchX, the knowledge of LPWAN (Low-Power Wide-Area Network) paved the way for Hu and his team. LPWAN systems are designed to allow long-range communications at a low bit rate, which means providing connectivity to devices that need extended battery life and need to work over long distances, for example about 40km. MatchX also implemented the Listen-Before-Talk (LBT) protocol, which only a few companies are able to make use of currently. LBT enables more sensors to connect and communicate with gateways.
Talking about the importance of LPWAN, Hu says that the tech is considerably decentralised and there’s no consensus between all the IoT LPWAN. The entrepreneur started a non-profit initiative with governments and enterprises called mxc.org and worked with the MXC Foundation to let people monetize the LPWAN IoT by using Blockchain technology. This is said to be the first time that decentralized LPWAN technology for Smart Cities can be built by people.
Alongside LPWAN that enables people to build their own network in unlicensed bands, MatchX is also working on using IoT to build a blockchain data market. This is expected to enable trading of data collected from sensors that are attached to the LPWAN. Hu is working with ASE Group in Taiwan and MXC Foundation to build an Open Source AI+LPWAN chip that supports Blockchain functionality. In addition, the chip is Open Source and it also supports an AI engine that enables edge processing for videos at the camera side, which solves any issues that might arise with GDPR.
According to Hu, “Technologies like Bluetooth, Wifi or LPWAN are just ways of getting data. Data is the goal. With our technology, you can collect a lot of common sensor data, such as location, temperature, and air moisture. These are general data so they are tradeable. Data is the new oil and we will mine this transmitted data from sensors and build a data market where people can trade and analyse data via blockchain.”
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