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“Technology and art should complement each other.” – Makeblock Product Manager Weijian Wang

Agtech Is Fertile Ground for Maker Pros

This past week, we visited the offices — and testing garden — of Franklin Robotics (@FranklinRobotic), a Massachusetts agtech startup developing a solar-powered robot designed to weed home gardens. That’s a challenging environment for any robot, but Franklin has a rare asset: one of its three co-founders is Joe Jones, the inventor of the Roomba.

The company’s flagship bot, Tertill, uses a tiny weedwacker and set of capacitive sensors to eliminate weeds while sparing flowers and vegetables. It’s got a few days left on Kickstarter, but has already raised double its middleweight goal of $120,000 — and the demo we saw in the garden plot behind the company’s office gave us confidence that the campaign could deliver next year.

“The problem is how to solve these problems without hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment,” co-founder Rory MacKean told us.

Agtech has long been the domain of established players, but the same technology that’s let maker pros break into other industries could change the face of farming and gardening in the near future. This Forbes roundup offers a solid primer on startups in the space.

Inside an Accelerator: Make in LA

Maker Pro co-editor DC Denison (@dcdenison) interviewed Shaun Arora (@ShaunFromLA) and Noramay Cadena (@noramayc), the co-founders of accelerator Make in LA (@MakeinLA), in a lively conversation about the what the duo has learned from the project’s first three cohorts.

A key question is when maker pros should choose an incubator, which favors highly regulated industries, or an accelerator like Make in LA, which better serves more aggressive tactics. Another takeaway: no matter how deep you sink into the technical nitty-gritty of your product, don’t forget how to communicate what you do in accessible terms.

“We always want our founders to get feedback from a broad array of technical and non-technical people,” the duo said.

The First Startup Incubator Also Incubated Chickens

Speaking of incubators, a new Backchannel/Wired report finds that the term is more than an apt metaphor; the Batavia Industrial Center, which when it opened in Western New York in the early 1960s was arguably the first modern business incubator, simultaneously housed baby chickens for Mount Hope Hatchery, a Rochester poultry outfit.

“These guys are incubating chickens,” the facility’s founder, Joe Mancuso, told a reporter in 1966 as they toured the facility. “I guess we’re incubating businesses.”

Remarkably, Batavia Industrial Center is still running today at the same location.

Maker Pros in the Workplace

On the Make: blog, a story about how maker pros in an employer’s workforce can enrich its development community: Weijian Wang is a product manager for Makeblock (@Makeblock), in Shenzhen, China, where he spends his free time using papercraft and his company’s platform to create elegant technical art, like a beautiful handmade phonograph that amplifies sound using a paper cone and Makeblock code.

“Technology and art should complement each other,” Wang said of his design aesthetic. “We should not only focus on overcoming technical obstacles, but also think of how to integrate new technology with art to express our ideas.”

By the way, you can connect with Wang on Maker Share (@makershare_), our new social network for makers of all kinds.

Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web

It’s easy to see a future for maker pros in eyewear, as with the 3D printed Protos (@ProtosEyewear) or MONO. Zenobia Chan, the founder of eyewear testing and consulting startup Precision Eyewear Laboratory  (@PelEyewear), published a roundup this week of things she wishes she’d done before starting the company, and it’s a worthy read.

Startupbootcamp  (@Sbootcamp) announced a free event series for hardware entrepreneurs this week called Hardware Hour. It sounds terrific; you can find the details here.

Make: Senior Editor Caleb Kraft (@calebkraft ) published a fascinating feature about making virtual reality accessible for people with physical disabilities — a group who have often felt frozen out of the technology’s movement-based media experiences.

Two once-promising maker pro ventures shut down this week: Pearl Automation (@Pearl_Auto), which was founded by a former Apple employee who wanted to bring the tech giant’s aesthetic to automobile accessories, and CastAR (@techillusions), which was trying to develop an augmented reality device akin to Microsoft’s HoloLens.

In the same space, a mysterious startup called Wonder nabbed some $14 million in funding to create what’s said to be a new type of virtual reality headset.

And Make: contributor Chiara Cecchini  (@ClaireCecchini) profiled the foodtech entrepreneurs behind Health-Ade (@DrinkHealthAde), a kombucha maker that touts the potential health benefits of its probiotic drink.