Technology can be esoteric or grounded, but the point of it should always be about making the world a better place. HKSTP incubatee IHP Limited automates the process of drawing bespoke messages on food. It might sound simple but there is a lot of substance to delivering heart-warming messages to tens of millions of people.
IHP’s managing director Wayne Chan says the four members of the founding team are specialists in different areas, such as software design and development, engineering, marketing and promotion. They were brought together by chance to work on a solution for a major catering conglomerate and continued on to start their venture.
Specialised equipment needed for cake personalisation
In 2016, the four founders, who all had day jobs, took on a sub-contracted project for a well-known catering chain. They were asked to create an automated machine able to quickly produce customers’ personalised messages on cakes. Wayne says it sounded easy to write and draw on cakes, but with hundreds or thousands of cakes being made daily, it was not easy to find enough people to stay on the job. The catering group had plenty of skilled bakers who loved making cakes but not so much producing customers’ personalised messages. Yet it was a critical step in delivering superior customer service.
Just imagine how awkward it would be if an exquisite cake ordered by a customer for a loved one displayed the incorrect name!
Automated systems never get exhausted
IHP’s equipment is created with hotels, restaurants, bakeries and social enterprises in mind. The founders discovered enormous market potential for the machine after making the first one. Caterers who take on a large number of bespoke cake orders can use the robotic arms of the machine to write bespoke messages in chocolate, different fonts and strokes as fine as 0.4mm, as well as create unique drawings. The machine ensures the cake can be delivered on time, with error-free messages and, unlike human workers, doesn’t need a rest.
IHP has completed the prototype of an industrial model of the machine based on its first machine, and is designing a commercial model for smaller bakeries. Wayne thinks the design theory for the industrial model and the commercial model is the same, but the latter can be more compact and work at a lower speed. It will also develop a management app for controlling the machine via smart devices. The industrial version features a control panel and can operate much faster. The automation system will enable enterprises to let customers input their messages directly via smart devices to further minimise errors in messages.
Unlocking global demand
IHP did its homework during the start-up process. It participated in a range of international trade shows to gauge the opinions of potential customers. Wayne says there were companies from the US, Korea and even Greece at the exhibitions which believed its machine would find a market in their home countries. They asked when the machine would become available so they could order one as soon as they had a local sales agent. In Shenzhen, a bakery which promises delivery of personalised cakes within eight hours after an order is placed, told IHP that the automated bespoke messaging machine would help it enhance customer service.
IHP is highly confident of its business potential. Wayne anticipates that in 2018, the machine will be launched in Hong Kong, and progressively introduced in mainland China and overseas. The have conceived a diversified business model that includes monthly rental or sale, as well as chocolate syrup refills as consumables, in the same vein as selling consumables for printers, to ensure ongoing demand. Before the product launch, they will also enhance the machine’s speed, refine the writing strokes and machine reliability, and enable multi-language for the operation interface.
Multi-level incubation support at Science Park
IHP joined HKSTP’s Incu-Tech programme and subsequently set up in Science Park. Wayne says he can already see a range of benefits from the incubation programme, such as an enhanced corporate image, expanded industry networks, funding support and use of lab facilities. Through HKSTP’s IndustryConnect programme, for example, IHP connected with potential customers in the hotel industry and obtained useful suggestions for product enhancement, in addition to promotional opportunities for its product.
Although IHP’s machine is made of cold stainless steel, it helps deliver personalised, heart-felt messages. It’s definitely technology that’s making the world a better, happier place.