Billy Frese featured in Nature: Shenzhen has emerged as a haven for biotechnology and cutting-edge hardware

Billy Frese (MEng class of 2015 and CTO of Lief Therapeutics) was featured in a Nature article on China’s Silicon Valley: Shenzhen has emerged as a haven for biotechnology and cutting-edge hardware. The focus is on Shenzhen as a “hardware haven”. Billy was on the Samsung Next Digital/ IoT Capstone project (2014-15).


In a small workshop on the eighth floor of Huaqiang Electronics World’s Building Number Two, Billy Frese is tinkering with his latest invention. The University of California, Berkeley bioengineering graduate explains how the Lief, a vibrating electrocardiogram patch that sits on the skin next to the heart, will help wearers to manage stress and anxiety by measuring the organ’s electrical activity and responding with vibrations to guide the wearer’s breathing. “It’s kind of meditation on training wheels,” he says.

Frese, who is the chief technology officer and part owner of Lief Therapeutics, has just returned from a trip to inspect conditions at a nearby battery factory. “I showed it to them, I said ‘it goes over your heart’,” he motions, “so our batteries need to be safe.”

Around 9% of Lief Therapeutics has been bought by the Shenzhen-based hardware accelerator HAX, which is in turn owned by the venture capital firm SOSV, based in Princeton, New Jersey.

In HAX’s open-plan office, rows of mostly young, foreign teams are developing their own inventions, sandwiched between containers of protein powder and upside-down rucksacks. Benjamin Joffe — one of HAX’s general partners — motions to an industrial robot arm about the size of a desk lamp, which he says is about to be bought by a major car manufacturer.

HAX is in Shenzhen, says Joffe, because of the city’s tech “ecosystem”. “You need to have circuit manufacturers, you need to have the component supplier, the metal parts, the plastic parts, the coating, the certification testing, all those things in reasonable proximity.” HAX’s actual workshop is small because Shenzhen offers so many outsourcing options, he explains. And the extra capacity in the supply chain is a boon for inventors, with factories more willing to deliver on small-scale orders.

That same ecosystem breeds competition. Of around 1,000 hardware start-ups that apply to join the HAX programme each year, only 30 are successful.

See Lief Therapeutics Kickstarter campaign: Stay calm and focused by learning to control your body’s natural stress response. Or their YouTube video.

Billy Frese’s MEng report was part of the Samsung Next Digital/ IoT initiative with title: “Design of a Bioreactive System for Emotionally Intelligent Internet of Things Environments”.

Featured Image: From Nature article, llustration, Miles Donovan; photos, Flynn Murphy/Getty