You’re reading our weekly Maker Pro Newsletter, which focuses on the impact of makers in business and technology. Our coverage includes hardware startups, new products, incubators, and innovators, along with technology and market trends. Subscribe today and never miss a post.
“A robot is one of the hardest pieces of tech to get out the door.” –Robotics Entrepreneur Gui Cavalcanti
They’re already old news on the West Coast, but electric scooters like Bird (@BirdRide) and Lime (@limebike), which you can rent on the street with a smartphone, are landing in cities across the country this month, from Boston and Austin to Chicago and Washington, DC.
On one hand, the scooters are a testament to the democratization of hardware. Under the hood, the devices are patched together with a hackable Particle Electron (@particle) board, a hefty battery and other off-the-shelf parts. And the scooters, which can zip at a clip of 15 miles-per-hour, build local ecosystems of subcontractors — often entrepreneurial teens — who are paid by the companies to gather the scooters at night and charge them.
On the other, residents have balked at the way the scooters contribute to sidewalk congestion — and injuries have spiked. In Massachusetts, the scooter companies didn’t even tell city officials before rolling out in their municipalities.
The takeaway: it’s easier than ever to bring an idea from concept to viable venture — but consider your new gadget’s unintended consequences for users and their communities early and often.
Make: contributor Joel Leonard (@SkillTV) suggests a way for makerspaces to connect with their local communities, build connections between the business and hacker sectors, and explore sponsorship partners: host a job fair for regional businesses.
“Learn how candidates can succeed at securing opportunities,” Leonard wrote. “Modify for your target industry segment. Discover what jobs are in high demand in your area. Focus on attracting candidates that fill those needs.”
Leonard’s piece is chock-full of actionable suggestions about organization, promotion, and even floor plan considerations.
When Startups Fail
Once-promising MIT (@MIT) robotics startup Jibo (@jibo), which was working on an animatronic smart home gadget, is in dire financial straits. Boston tech blogger Scott Kirsner (@ScottKirsner) took a deep dive into the company’s struggles this week, and reported that in spite of glowing reception, the startup made a grave error — they never found a way to connect with potential buyers.
“We talked a lot about what our killer app was,” a former Jibo employee told Kirsner. “I don’t think we had a good enough answer, and that created a challenge for marketing. Why was it worth it? At our price point, you had to be able to justify the cost.”
Jibo could still find a buyer or cash infusion. Less fortunate is Printrbot(@printrbot), a seminal maker business that launched in 2011 with a successful Kickstarter (@kickstarter) campaign and remained committed to open source and affordability. In recent years the company added CNC functionality and other advanced features — but ultimately, the company couldn’t surmount ongoing software problems and competition from low-priced overseas printers.
“And with that, Printrbot is no longer,” wrote Make: Executive Editor Mike Senese (@msenese). “Their robust machines and energetic customers will likely help support each other as the dust settles.”
The Maker Pros of Glasgow
Galactic Crafts (@galactic_crafts), which makes jewelry and patches, will be in attendance. Also there will be KPCouturé, a fashion brand founded to explore the future of sustainable fashion, and which produces its goods using plastic and textiles redirected from the waste stream by the Kinning Park Complex (@KinningParkComp) community center.
Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web
Latvian 3D printer maker Mass Portal (@MassPortal) has split up into two separate companies, one of which will handle hardware and the other software. The hardware side will continue as Mass Portal and the software venture, which hopes to license its tech to other fabrication manufacturers, will carry on as FabControl.
Amazon (@amazon) launched a maker-inflected product this week: Part Finder, a system that identifies components in pictures you snap with your phone. TechCrunch reports that the product was built using tech from Partpic (@Partpic), a venture the retail giant acquired in 2016. The feature is already built into the Amazon iOS app.
We missed it when it first came out, but Bloomberg issued a gloomy investigation last month into the state of American entrepreneurship — and how the tech sector would need to change to again encourage the type of bottom-up innovation that led to its success in earlier decades.