“Good hardware can’t be rushed.”
From the editors of MAKE magazine, the Maker Pro Newsletter is about the impact of makers on business and technology. Our coverage includes hardware startups, new products, incubators, and innovators, along with technology and market trends.
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Bolt Adjusts Its Model. Are Hardware Incubators Evolving?
The workshop at Bolt.
Is the hardware accelerator model evolving away from the standard software version popularized by Techstars and Y Combinator?
That seems to be the case at Bolt, in Boston, and at Lemnos Labs, in San Francisco.
A few days ago, Bolt posted some good news about one of its portfolio companies, Petnet, which had just announced its next round of funding. But Bolt co-founder Ben Einstein (@beneinstein) also took the occasion to describe Bolt’s evolving model, six months after it opened its doors.
The biggest change: a realization that hardware startups aren’t fitting into the classic software accelerator/incubator model, which tends to last around three months. Hardware, Einstein writes, “takes significant development, planning, time, and experience to get right.” As a result, Bolt has found that it’s more productive to work with “later stage startups,” and it has been working with them for longer periods of time: six months and longer.
Einstein’s post describes a number of other ways that Bolt has diverged from the software model: instead of relying on a network of “mentors,” Bolt uses a full-time staff of product designers, engineers, and manufacturing experts that work with portfolio companies in a well-equipped shop space; capital investments, equity, and curriculum are now all custom; and there are no “demo days,” which Einstein categorized as “a distraction.” (BTW, Bolt, which considers applications a few times a year, is currently open for applications through Feb. 18.)
Bolt’s redefinition recalls a similar significant adjustment by West Coast hardware incubator Lemnos Labs late last year, when it abandoned its five-month program to focus on longer-term commitments: as long as 14 months.
“Now, we invest year-round and we house companies in our warehouse for as long as it takes them to reach their next funding milestone,” Lemnos founding partner Jeremy Conrad wrote in a blog post. “We’ve found this range to be anywhere from 5 to 14 months.”
Conrad’s conclusion: “Good hardware can’t be rushed.”
Although the software accelerator/incubator model is still the default for many hardware versions, these refinements by Bolt and Lemnos Labs could be an early indication that hardware startups will ultimately require a different model.
Briefs, Updates, Follow-Ups, and Further Thoughts
Martha Stewart checks out the Form 1 at CES 2014 image via @larry_jamieson‘s Twitter feed.
* What does 3D printing landscape look like after a tumultuous CES? MAKE’s Anna Kaziunas France (@akaziuna) gives a comprehensive assessment. If all you’ve read about 3D printing at CES has focused on the twin towers of MakerBot and 3D Systems, you owe it to yourself to read Anna’s rundown, which details literally dozens of 3D printing developments, and explains how they relate to two overarching themes: the pursuit of “ease of use,” and the movement of the entire evolving ecosystem incrementally towards the mainstream.
* Add one post-CES partnership to the above: 3D Systems and chocolate corp, Hershey.
* Contextual Electronics, a new program aimed at electronics enthusiasts who are ready to take their Arduino skills to the next level, is up and running. The first session of the course, an 8-week program that will teach you how to design a large, multi-function Arduino shield using KiCad, the open source CAD software, is now closed to interactive participants, but auditors are still welcome.
* Commentators are still debating what Google‘s purchase of Nest Labs means. Some recently published theories:
- Nest Labs is now Google’s new smart home division.
- It may the closest Google will ever get to an Apple-Google collaboration.
- It’s Google’s attempt to own the “home operating system”: the user interface, the data, and the services that help you run your home, including security and monitoring.
- It provides Google access to new types of data, with potentially negative consequences for consumers.
- It’s another example of Google’s push into robotics. This theory posits that Nest Labs is actually a robotics company inside an Apple-ish case. So the deal gives Google “a cryptorobotics company” that deals in sensing, automation, and control.
The Spark team, who built an open source version of Nest thermostat in one day (Adafruit is also considering the idea), had a different take on the transaction. Their view: it proves that it’s easier than it’s ever been to create a $3.2 billion dollar company. Which means it’s time to “get excited, crazy things are possible.”
How to Talk Crowdfunding
Crafting a crowdfunding campaign?
Stay away from the phrase “hope to get.” It’s a loser, indicating a lack of authority.
“Given the chance,” on the other hand, is a winner, signaling scarcity.
Both are among the clusters found by researchers at Georgia Tech who studied more than 45,000 projects on Kickstarter in an attempt to measure the predictive power of language in crowdfunding campaigns. Assistant Professor Eric Gilbert and doctoral candidate Tanushree Mitra found dozens of phrases that pay and a few dozen more that may signal the likely failure of a crowdsourced effort.
For example, the phrases “also receive two,” “has pledged,” and “project will be” strongly foretell that a project will reach funded status, while phrases such as “dressed up,” “not been able,” and “trusting” are attached to unfunded projects.
Builders of hardware projects have an advantage, it turns out: phrases that indicate reciprocity — including actual products in return for pledges — were among the top predictors of success. So be sure to sprinkle your next campaign with phrases like “pledged will” and “also receive two.”
Although the semantics are interesting, the phrases point to deeper qualities that are worth reviewing before launching a campaign, including social proof, authority, scarcity, liking, and reciprocity. If you don’t have those, no amount of wordsmithing is going to paper over your campaign’s flaws.
Their paper, “The Language that Gets People to Give: Phrases that Predict Success on Kickstarter,” will be formally presented at the 17th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing to be held in Baltimore, Md., from Feb. 15 to 19.
A World Wide Web for Robots
The RoboEarth model.
Teaching robots is time-consuming and expensive. You generally have to start from scratch.
But last week, at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, a research group demonstrated how robots can get up to speed much faster.
The key is a network and database repository where robots can share information and learn from each other about their behavior and their environment. That’s what RoboEarth, a research project funded by the European Union, has been building.
Last week, the RoboEarth team hosted a demonstration to show how far they’ve come. First, a robot explored a fake hospital room, creating a detailed map and sharing it with RoboEarth. Later, another robot, newly introduced, was able to successfully navigate the room and serve a patient a drink by pinging RoboEarth and learning from the system, and the first robot.
Data stored in the RoboEarth knowledge base include software components, maps for navigation, task knowledge, and object recognition models.
RoboEarth has been working on this idea for four years. See how far they’ve come on their software components page.
Maybe you won’t have to start your next robot project from scratch.
7 Paths to Maker Pro
Dan Landrum is a talented designer in a unique medium: laser-cut corrugated cardboard.
He is also determined to make his craft a sustainable business.
Recently in MAKE he described the paths he has taken in this ambitious pursuit: from personally visiting local stores, to email marketing, to working through a sales rep, to Etsy, to local fairs and street markets, to, finally, this week, posting a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.
The view from over his shoulder will give you a feel for what it’s really like to try to turn your craft into a business.
Mini Maker Faires
Now the pace is starting to pick up.
Here’s what’s coming in the next few months:
- Hamboree Mini Maker Faire (FL): February 1
- Kalispell Mini Maker Faire (MT): February 22
- Buffalo Mini Maker Faire (NY): March 1
- Honolulu Mini Maker Faire (HI): March 15
- NoVa Mini Maker Faire (VA): March 16
- Seattle Mini Maker Faire (WA): March 22
- Oaxaca Mini Maker Faire (WA): March 22 & 23
- Cleveland Mini Maker Faire (OH): March 29
- Tyler Mini Maker Faire (TX): March 29
What’s ahead further down the road? Check the Maker Faire Map to find the closest one to you.