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“Anything you throw against these will not destroy them.” – Sheerly Genius Founder Katherine Homuth
Building a Hardware Startup Outside Silicon Valley
It can be prohibitively difficult to build a hardware startup outside the plugged-in ecosystem of a major tech hub — but that didn’t stop Kela Ivonye, who launched his smart mailbox company MailHaven (@MailHaven) in Louisville, Kentucky.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that a savvy founder can’t spend time in magnet area for networking and training purposes. Ivonye has completed two accelerator programs in the Bay Area — but neither one tempted him to relocate permanently. Keeping the company located in a more representative area, he argues, keeps it focused on design goals that genuinely help
“We find ourselves not getting jaded, being focused and solving real problems that are affecting people who live in this area, which is a demographic that is representative of a majority of America,” he said. “Being in Louisville and working on this problem allows us to be well-grounded.”
This is arguably an exciting era for smartmail startups, by the way, in spite of troubled times for snail mail. In 2015, the United States Postal Service (@USPS) released a report titled “The Internet of Postal Things,” which argued that connected mailboxes could be a hundred-million dollar industry.
The Maker Pros of Maker Faire Lille
Make:’s coverage of Maker Faire Lille turned up a grab bag of promising French maker pros.
There was Kataposte, for instance, which sells beautifully-designed open-source boomboxes. Lamp maker Plizoo also wowed with a collection of minimalist, low-polygon animal lights. Les Petit Radis is an edtech venture that shows kids how to grow vegetables, and WeePoo is a Bluetooth toilet seat for gamers who can’t bear to leave the action even for a bathroom trip.
Also, because no Maker Faire would be complete without the cosplay set, there was Libs Cosplay, which showed off some of its extraordinary costumes and held a workshop on how to make imposing foam armor.
Under the Hood of Opendesk
Open source design outfit Opendesk (@open_desk), which hosts furniture schematics that a group of global makers can make in different locales, released a trove of data about its network in 2017 — a worthwhile peek behind the scenes, and one which offers some clues as the scale and throughput required to maintain a maker pro venture.
Overall, the company’s network of makers built 1,460 items of furniture, for instance, which typically run at a price point of $1,000 or more — and that’s out of just 1,939 quote requests, which is an impressive conversion rate. The company also introduced eight new designs; its most popular locations were London, New York and Paris; the most popular CNC machines in its network were Multicam (@MulticamUSA) and Shopbot (@ShopBot), and the most popular design program was Autocad (@AutoCAD).
Particle Announces Mesh
Particle (@particle) announced Particle Mesh this week, a third-generation system that lets developers build local, low-power mesh networks between devices for which it isn’t practical to maintain connections to Wi-Fi or LTE.
“We built Particle Mesh to address a gap in the market: building local networks to connect IoT products to each other without being a networking guru,” said Particle co-founder Zach Supalla (@zs). “We’re excited to see what problems our customers solve with this new technology.”
A Particle insider tells us the company’s audience depends on the time of day — they see them as professionals during the 9–5, but hobbyist makers at night.
Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web
Avnet (@Avnet) subsidiary Newark element14 announced an ambitious new add-on board for the lightweight computer called Cloudio, which gives the device a lush feature set: drag and drop programming on iOS and Android (@Android), voice recognition capabilities, a sensor dashboard, and more.
The winner of AlphaLab Gear’s (@AlphaLabGear) Hardware Cup this year was Velocity Robotics (@velocityrobotic), a Pittsburgh startup that’s working on smart tape measures and miter saws. The small company took home $3,000 and a one-year Solidworks (@SOLIDWORKS) license.
Startup Sheerly Genius (@sheerlygenius) is selling rip-proof pantyhose — which, though it’s a marketing pitch that goes back decades, may be the first to use a fiber normally used in bulletproof vests. “You can’t tear them apart,” said founder Katherine Homuth (@KatherineHomuth). “Anything you throw against these will not destroy them. They’re totally lifeproof.”
This analysis of the characteristics of “unicorn” startups — the rare breed that achieve a valuation of more than $1 billion — had a gloomy takeaway: only seven percent of unicorns are hardware companies.