The premise of MakerCon’s Launch Pad competition is fairly simple. 10 Maker-based startups give a five-minute pitch of their product or idea to a panel of five judges. The judges deliberate and award a grand prize ($5,000 and free booth space at Maker Faire) to the most promising company.
But from what I saw today, the money isn’t really the point of Launch Pad (though it doesn’t hurt). For the entrepreneurs, it was a chance to not only pitch their product, but to tell their story to an audience of their peers.
It was also a way for these startups to test the mettle of their business plans against a panel of esteemed judges, including Joanne Domeniconi (The Grommet), Nick Pinkston from Plethora, Rafe Needleman of Yahoo Tech, Gareth Keane of Qualcomm Ventures, and Ann Miura-Ko from Floodgate.
I had the privilege of hosting the show, and from my seat offstage Launch Pad was a blast to watch and the five minute time limit was a useful constraint to keep things tight and entertaining.
The competition kicked off with Timothy Chen from Sereneti and a new kitchen appliance called Cooki. The product looks like a kitchen top mixer and the gist of the pitch was “a Keurig for food.”
— Dale Dougherty (@dalepd) May 12, 2015
Next up was Taryn Sullivan from Dexter Industries and a Raspberry Pi robotics kit called GoPiGo. The base kit sells for $89 and can be upgraded with wireless video cameras, Nerf dart turrets, and other accessories.
Amanda Williams from Fabule took the stage to pitch BoM Squad, a collaborative software that helps hardware startups optimize their bill of materials. Fabule was the only company with a software product at Launch Pad, but they couldn’t have had a better audience of Maker entrepreneurs to pitch to. A duo from Opendesk, Jack Briggs and Josh Worley, extolled the benefits of designing for digital fabrication and upending the furniture industry by removing physical distribution from the equation. Instead, a global catalog of Opendesk furniture designs can be sent to local fabshops and milled on demand.
To lighten things up Wendy Marvel and Mark Arnon Rosen from Wackystuff Inc. brought a table on stage to demo their product, FlipBookit. As the name implies, the product is a kit for creating and animating your own looping flipbook. The product is currently available for a base price of $29.95 and can be modified and upgraded with motors or Arduino control.
To really make an entrance, Melissa Brandao from Rogue Rovers approached the stage riding on a FarmDogg, a custom-built smart ATV geared towards farming. The FarmDogg can be operated by a driver or as a driverless vehicle for automated tasks. It also looks really cool, especially with its bright LED-lit wheel wells.
Roderick Derode from Spinn Coffee stepped up next to pitch his integrated coffee system. The Spinn coffee machine marries a subscription bean delivery service with a patented centrifugal brewer that literally spins the coffee out of the brewed mixture. The machine looks pretty, but I didn’t get a chance to taste the coffee.
Next up, another vehicle: a two-wheeled electric motorbike called the Bolt M-1. Bolt founder Nathan Jauvtis showed off his creation, which was easily the sexiest tech we saw all day. Not technically a motorcycle, this lightweight electric moped rides like a bike, juiced up with a top speed of 40mph. Expected pricing is $4995. Availability is TBD, so you still have time to finish up a Batman costume to compliment this machine.
I’m sure my kid will want the Bolt, but at our house he’s more likely to get the ProtoPalette, an educational electronic prototyping kit pitched by ProtoPalette EdTech CEO Will Pemble. The ProtoPalette is literally shaped like a painter’s palette and offers a great assortment of Arduino-compatible components, switches, and lights that will appeal to tinkerers young and old. Pricing starts at $99.
Finally, BotFactory capped off the Launch Pad competition with a pitch for Squink, an all-in-one desktop electronics factory for creating electronic circuits at home using surface mount components. In addition to having a wonderfully silly name, the machine will print your circuit traces, lay the conductive glue, and place components.
And the winner is…
Launch Pad presentations concluded around 11:30am, leaving a grueling six hours before a grand prize winner was announced.
The judges based their decision on four criteria: application to real world problems, commercial viability, originality, and pitch quality. But even with these guidelines, I’m sure it was no easy task to pick a clear winner from such a diverse lineup of competitors.
At 5:45 pm, Maker Media founder and Executive Chairman Dale Dougherty took the stage to bestow the Grand Prize to BotFactory and their Squink desktop electronics factory. Nicolas from BotFactory gave a great presentation and walked away with a giant check and some complimentary Maker Faire booth space.