The guys at Helios don’t have anything to sell at Maker Faire. Their “smart bike” handlebars won’t be available until the fall.
But here they are, at Maker Faire, in a small booth with two prototypes bicycle handlebars mounted on bikes. They are engaging with a torrent of curious Maker Faire attendees: answering questions, demonstrating features; giving away stickers, business cards, bottles of water, and granola bars.
Helios is one of seven companies at Maker Faire that recently graduated from the 4-month HAXL8R accelerator program in Schenzen, China. The program director of HAXL8R, Zach Smith, is also at Maker Faire. The program is sponsoring the young companies’ presence.
“About half the companies self-identified as makers, so it made sense to be here,” Smith said. “It’s also a way to get good ideas: it’s good for them to talk to people about their products and see what they say about it.”
Smith is basing his opinion on his own experience: as one of the original founders of the early MakerBot 3D printer, he remembers taking the idea to Maker Faire and getting valuable input from the Maker Faire crowd.
Start-ups like the HAXL8R companies are part of the mix at Maker Faire. Although many other projects — the personal, the fanciful, the educational — get more attention, a significant number of Maker Faire participants are trying out a business idea, taking advantage of the instant test market that Maker Faire offers.
So far, the Helios guys think the experience is worth it.
“We’ve had our heads down for the last four months, so this is a good reality check,” said co-founder Tony Belmontes. “It’s kind of like this is awesome for us; is it awesome for anyone else?”
A few booths away, another HAXLR8R company, Hex Air Robot, is displaying prototypes of its drones.
“Real products won’t be available for a few months,” said co-founder Shihong Luo, who’s from Gui Zhou, China. This is his first Maker Faire; his first visit to the United States.
“I thought Maker Faire would be a more formal event, but it’s much more like a party,” he said as he looked around. “It’s festive. It makes me feel more relaxed.”
Zhou said it has been valuable for him to see other companies at Maker Faire that are working on drones.
“They can be competitors, but I like that we are working in the same direction,” he said. “It gives me hope that we can make this a business.”
As if on cue, Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired magazine, now CEO of 3D Robotics, stopped by the booth. He examined a large Hex Air Robot prototype drone very carefully: fingering the propeller housings, asking Zhou detailed questions about the sensors.
“Very interested in this machine,” Anderson said, lost in thought.
A few minutes later, after Anderson moved on, Zhou said, “Chris Anderson is kind of a competitor, but definitely the type of person I want to talk to.”