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“Three years ago, I was at Bay Area Maker Faire, sitting here like you guys.” –Siren Care Founder Ran Ma
Launching a Startup at Maker Faire
Maker Faire Bay Area was a blowout destination for maker pros of all stripes, from hardware entrepreneurs to bespoke artisans. Take Franklin Robotics (@FranklinRobotic), a Massachusetts startup working on a compact solar-powered bot named Tertill, designed to roam a garden plot and kill weeds with a tiny weed-wacker as it avoids crops and flowers.
Franklin plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign for Tertill this summer, said CEO Rory MacKean (@RoryMacKean), but he’s been bringing the company to Maker Faires for years so that his team can gather feedback from fellow makers as they iterate the product. One example: before deciding with the weed-wacker design, his team experimented with a design that deployed herbicides. But a fully organic design resonated with Faire-goers, and they embraced that model in the builds that led to the current prototype.
“Maker Faire is great,” MacKean told us. “It’s really helpful to get in front of people and get their feedback. I think it’s more valuable before you launch: you want to make sure you’re building something people want.”
Live From the Make: Pro Stage
In the Maker to Market Pavilion, we were lucky enough to host a nonstop roster of entrepreneurs and experts, from intellectual property sage Bob Zeidman to HAX founder Cyril Ebersweiler to a panel of USMC Innovation Challenge participants, who are tasked with improvising solutions on the battlefield and beyond.
Driving the narrative were the stories by maker pros themselves — accounts of success, but also of failure, frustration and astounding perseverance. Ran Ma, for one, drew a mammoth crowd with a warts-and-all chronicle of Siren Care, the medtech startup she founded to create a smart sock that helps patients manage diabetes care.
Siren Care nabbed the TechCrunch Hardware Battlefield award early this year, but the journey to that recognition that Ma recounted onstage was a grueling stream of rejections by partners, investors and accelerators. And Ma’s talk came full circle: it was rubbing shoulders with other entrepreneurs at a previous Maker Faire that drove her to drop out of business school and pursue her Siren Care dream.
“Three years ago, I was at Bay Area Maker Faire, sitting here like you guys,” Ma said. “I never thought I would work in hardware.”
That was an ongoing theme, by the way: going pro can be richly rewarding, but it probably won’t be easy. Our very first presenter, Chris Lawrie, said as much of his work developing business strategies for maker pros at Vectric.
“I’m going to talk about entrepreneurs,” he said, “making the very difficult transition from a prototype to selling a product.”
Among the Maker Pros
We reported last week that Kickstarter is teaming up with Avnet (@Avnet) and Dragon Innovation (@dragoninnovate) to launch Hardware Studio, an initiative that will provide information and support to maker pros planning to crowdfund a physical product.
At Maker Faire, representatives from all three partners confirmed key details — and their enthusiasm for the initiative was abundantly clear. Hardware Studio will be comprised of two parts: a publicly-accessible “toolkit” of resources on planning, sourcing and manufacturing hardware, and an application-only “connection” component that will provide personalized support. Paid consulting services will be available from Dragon and Avnet.
According to Avnet spokesperson Bob Merriman: “Those makers who are inspired to take that next step and Kickstart a product are an inspiration to us.”
Also at Maker Faire, Tinkercad (@tinkercad) announced a dizzying new feature selection including embedded circuits and Lego exports. And Glowforge (@glowforge) shared an exciting update as well: its eponymous, crowdfunded laser cutters are now in production and will ship to backers soon.
Perspective from a First Timer
The Maker to Market Pavilion was loaded with agritech maker pros. We talked with Eric De Feo, the founder of an elegant, pod-based hydroponic vegetable growing system called Root (@growwithroot), about takeaways from his first ever Maker Faire Bay Area.
“It’s always good to put your product out there, so you can prioritize what people actually want,” he said, showing off pods bursting with mint, sage, oregano, lavender and even ripening strawberries. “As an entrepreneur, this is a really great expo.”
Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web
Tesla legitimized the electric car, and electric bicycles have slowly become an important sector, but a new report points to the growth of electric motorcycles as well. Case in point: Zero Motorcycles (@ZeroMC), is selling beefy, domestically manufactured battery-powered bikes that, aesthetically, would make Hunter S. Thompson proud.
On the Make: blog, Predictable Designs Founder John Teel has a new breakdown of unexpected manufacturing costs associated with mass manufacturing.
It’s a little gross and a little cool: researchers at MIT have created a workout shirt that uses living bacteria to vent itself automatically in response to sweat.
Make: senior editor Caleb Kraft profiled Evezor (@evezor), an open source robot arm that can work as a CNC tool, a laser cutter and even a bartender.
Robocop is an ‘80s classic, but are officials in Dubai taking it too far with plans for a police station staffed entirely by robots? The astonishing thing, if it’s not just posturing, is the near-future goal date of 2030.