MakerCon, the only conference by and for leaders of the Maker Movement, enters its second year with a first: Launch Pad.

A competition aimed at young new hardware startups with an actual product to demo and less than $3 million in funding, Launch Pad allows new Maker Pros to gain the attention of over one thousand influential Makers over a two-day period. The Launch Pad winner will be known by many more.

With a $5,000 cash prize, Make: Magazine coverage, placement at Maker Faire Bay Area, free registration to MakerCon New York, and other perks, the LaunchPad competition offers a serious hand up to nascent companies.

What’s more, it allows them to gain the full attention and consideration of a who’s-who of Maker Movement stalwarts. Our inaugural LaunchPad lifts off with a stellar slate of judges, but the window is closing. Competition entry closes in less than one week, by midnight PST on Tuesday, March 31.

Who decides the fate of Launch Pad contestants? Folks who really know their stuff.

gareth-keane-e14266983449871Gareth Keane, Qualcomm Ventures group. Gareth Keane is an Investment Manager with Qualcomm Ventures, based in the Bay Area. His career has stretched from engineering to venture capital investment, with Gareth currently managing Qualcomm Ventures’ investments in 360fly, 3DR, LifX, Pelican Imaging, Skycatch, and Swift Navigation. Gareth has an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, a PhD in Electronic Engineering from the Queen’s University of Belfast, and a BE in Electronic Engineering from the National University of Ireland, Galway. He is also a Kauffman Fellow.

rafe-en1Rafe Needleman, Yahoo Tech Editor. The editorial director of Yahoo Tech, Rafe has been reviewing technology products and startup ideas for more than 20 years. He worked as editor-in-chief of the original personal computing magazine, Byte, and was the first editor of CNET reviews. He’s also worked at Evernote, PC/Computing, Corporate Computing, Red Herring, and InfoWorld. He’s the author of the Pro PR Tips blog, a delightful collection of never-do communications mistakes.

photo_annAnn Miura-Ko, co-founder, Floodgate Partners. Ann Miura-Ko has been called “the most powerful woman in startups” by Forbes and is a lecturer in entrepreneurship at Stanford. The child of a rocket scientist at NASA, Ann is a Palo Alto native steeped in technology startups. Prior to co-founding Floodgate, she worked at Charles River Ventures and McKinsey and Company. Some of Ann’s investments include Lyft, Ayasdi, Xamarin, Refinery29, Chloe and Isabel, Maker Media, Wanelo, TaskRabbit, and Modcloth. Ann’s investment interests include innovations in e-commerce, security, big data, and radical science. Be sure to ask her about “thunderlizards.”

nickNick Pinkston, founder, Plethora. The founder of Plethora, a rapid manufacturing service with tools that let you design for manufacturability inside CAD software and then utilize a flexible manufacturing system, Nick previously founded CloudFab, the first manufacturing-as-a-service API. He also founded HackPittsburgh, a Pennsylvania-based Makerspace. Nick’s mission is to make developing hardware as easy as developing software through the use of better tools. Organizer of the monthly SF Hardware Startup Meetups, Nick works at the intersection of manufacturing, software, and economics.

robertRobert Stephens, founder, Geek Squad. A native of Chicago, Robert left a scholarship at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1990 to pursue a degree in computer science at the University of Minnesota where he landed a job fixing computers for the Human Factors Research Laboratory. Over a three-year period, he rose to become head engineer of the lab while earning scholarships from the U.S. Navy and the FAA building flight and driving simulators while also running a computer consulting business. In April 1994, after three years at the University, he formed the Geek Squad with $200. In 2002, the Geek Squad was acquired by Best Buy and opened Geek Squad precincts in all Best Buy U.S. and Canadian stores. With over 6,000 agents, the Geek Squad is now North America’s largest technology support company offering phone, in-store, and in-home support. These days, Robert is serious about business messaging and other ways to connect retail to consumers.

Is your small hardware startup ready to impress people who have connections and funding, wisdom and insight? Let Launch Pad help you aim for the stars.

Launch Pad entry closes at 11:59pm PST on Tuesday, March 31. Get your entry in today.