Maker Pro News: Pharrell Williams Goes into Hardware, How Startups Survive, and More

Education Internet of Things Technology
Maker Pro News: Pharrell Williams Goes into Hardware, How Startups Survive, and More

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.

The only thing you do as a startup is to survive. – Xiaomi co-founder Bin Lin

Pharrell Williams Joins a Hardware Startup

Grammy-winning performer and producer Pharrell WIlliams (@Pharrellhas joined British hardware startup ROLI (@WeAreROLI), which produces a range of music instruments such as the modular synthesizer system BLOCKS, as chief creative officer.

The Neptunes producer — and Snoop Dogg (@SnoopDogg) collaborator — also took an unspecified stake in the company. It’ll be interesting to see the role Williams takes in the company: will he be leaning over a workbench with a soldering iron, or act more as a promotional figure?

Regardless, the hire shows the growing cachet of hardware startups among the celebrity elite. Worthy of note: Williams isn’t the only musician to try a maker venture in recent years — Black Eyed Peas (@bep) singer (@iamwillcreated a smartwatch company a few years ago, to mixed reviews.

Roli CEO Roland Lamb (@RolandLambsaid that he believes the songwriter will fit into the company’s creative maker culture.

“We’re always looking for creative artists to work with, and Pharrell embodies creativity — not only in his music but also in many other areas like design and fashion,” Lamb said. “And he’s someone I admire and respect enormously.”

Xiaomi Co-Founder to Students: Startups Need to Fight to Survive

During an appearance at Tufts University (@TuftsUniversity) this week, Bin Lin — a co-founder of Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi (@xiaomi) — told students that running a hardware startup is a constant battle.

“The only thing you do as a startup is to survive,” Lin said. “It’s very brutal.”

Lin is an alum of Microsoft and Google. When the latter pulled out of China in 2010, he went on to start Xiaomi, which has rapidly branched out from software to create affordable, consumer-oriented smartphones that have become a surprise international hit.

Food Maker Frontiers

Make: correspondent Chiara Cecchini (@ClaireCecchinireports on Bloomengine (@Bloomengine1), a smart flower pot with the design aesthetic of an iPhone.

Richard Branson (@richardbranson) and Bill Gates (@BillGates) are among the backers of Memphis Meats (@MemphisMeats), which plans to grow cruelty-free beef, chicken, and duck meat in “bioreactors.” The startup has drawn wealthy backers with a social mission to fight climate change and, apparently, a promising technical pitch.

Don’t say Juicero, but Teforia (@teforia) — a VC-funded company selling a high-end tea infuser for some $1,000 — announced this week that it will shut down, calling this era a “very difficult time for hardware companies in the smart kitchen space.”

The Maker Pros of Maker Faire Istanbul

Amid other uncertainties, the maker movement in Turkey appears to be flourishing. Make: contributor Goli Mohammadi (@snowgolipreviewed last week’s Maker Faire Istanbul, where maker pros were one of five main categories at a blowout event that featured 400 maker projects and 100 workshops.

Business highlights from Mohammadi’s coverage: zSpace (@zSpace), an augmented reality startup focused on creating educational AR experiences for kids; MAKEY Blocks (@makeyblocks), a Lego-compatible system for building electronics; and BulutBoard, an electronics system for building robots that can be programmed with a tablet computer.

Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web

Buzzfeed (@BuzzFeed) has a new pitch for maker pros: invent a gadget, let Buzzfeed promote it with the same ad machinery it uses to move branded cookbooks and fidget spinners, keep the proceeds — minus a percentage to Buzzfeed for its services. Behind the project is Ben Kaufman (@benkaufman), former CEO of Quirky (@Quirky). The media giant is already taking submissions.

Make: founder and CEO Dale Dougherty (@dalepd) is featured in the latest issue of Avnet’s (@AvnetSupply Chain Navigator, where he tackles intersections between the maker world and the supply chain.

It’s tough to differentiate an offering in the crowded 3D printer market, but Olo Printer (@ono3d) made waves at World Maker Faire New York (@makerfaire) in 2015 with a device that uses a smartphone screen as a light source to generate resin-based 3D prints. There was some concern about whether the company would deliver, but a demo last week went off without a hitch.

Indian hardware incubator Electropreneur Park (@electropreneur), which has graduated 13 companies to date, is seeking applicants for its next cohort.

The Maker Share (@themakershare) platform seeks makers who can help devise lo-fi relief builds in the wake of disaster: one new challenge invites makers to share solutions for creating bespoke replacement parts in the wake of a natural disaster, and another is soliciting ideas for how to cook without advanced resources.

Spacetech startup Vector (@vectorspacesys) plans to launch three small rockets from a Virginia site next year. “We just need a nice flat spot somewhere,” CEO Jim Cantrell (@jamesncantrell) told the Verge.

Swedish wearable startup Flow Neuroscience (@flowneurosci) says that its head-mounted device, which sends a weak electrical signal through the wearer’s brain, could fight depression. To be fair, it’s a booming field among neuroscientists — but no word on how the device will be handled by regulators.

Further fallout from that European report about security gaps in electronics marketed to children: Fast Company is now recommending that parents not buy children smartwatches.

Make: Executive Editor Mike Senese (@msenese) has more details on Easel Pro, the latest software offering from Inventables (@Inventables) that’s designed to meet the needs of maker pros.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

DC Denison is the co-editor of The Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection of makers and business. That means hardware startups, new products, and market trends.

DC manages customer stories at Acquia, the digital experience company.

View more articles by DC Denison

Jon Christian is the co-editor of the Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection between makers and business. He's also written for the Boston Globe, WIRED and The Atlantic.

View more articles by Jon Christian


Ready to dive into the realm of hands-on innovation? This collection serves as your passport to an exhilarating journey of cutting-edge tinkering and technological marvels, encompassing 15 indispensable books tailored for budding creators.

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Buy Tickets today! SAVE 15% and lock-in your preferred date(s).