HIW Day 1: “The World is our Construction Kit”

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Bunny Huang’s “master class” for makers kicked off the first day of the Hardware Innovation Workshop with a sold-out crowd.

Innovation is one of those concepts that’s hard to describe, but when you see it (or hear it), you know you’ve found it. It’s certainly in abundance with the speakers and participants at the first day of the Make Hardware Innovation Workshop today.

Before the main event, MAKE founder Dale Dougherty kicked off a special sold out focus session lead by Chumby inventor Bunnie Huang, who dazzled an audience of budding hardware entrepreneurs with highly technical, and yet highly entertaining (and informative) tale of caution for anyone trying to spec out a project for production in China. Indeed, the stories about the dizzying possibilities and pitfalls involved with diving into contract manufacturing overseas were eye-opening, but very exciting. If there was a theme to the talks from the morning session it’s that in the world of hardware fabrication, anything is possible, and may not be as expensive as you think, as long as you ask the right questions, and go the extra distance to find people who will work with you, rather than for you.

The conference ramped up in the afternoon with an inspiring first presentation by Robert Faludi, from Digi International, who spoke on the inspiration he found from Walt Disney for creating the best products by thinking about the guest, or end user, first. Robert’s invocation to the diverse crowd of eager creators was whenever there’s a decision to be made, choose the one that will lead to the best user experience, and you can never go wrong.

The amazing thing about HIW’s first afternoon was how fluid the connections were between and among the participants: speakers left the stage to spend an hour touring new products in the showcase area; exhibitors took a break from behind their tables to participate in a panel, and then returned to check out other start-up projects under the showcase tents.

Alice Taylor, of custom doll maker MakieLab, left her post behind her display table to participate in the Case Studies in Success panel. Afterwards she said intended to visit the Electric Imp table in the showcase area to see if some of their technology might work inside her dolls.

Five finalists in the event’s Pitches with Prototypes contest took the stage to, well, pitch their prototypes. Attendees had ballots and voted for their favorites The winner will be announced tomorrow and will get to appear on the Innovation Stage at Maker Faire.

The day concluded with a great panel discussion with VCs Eric Klein of Lemnos Labs, Trae Vassalo of Kleiner Perkinds Caulfied & Byers, K9 Venture’s Manu Kumar, Renata Quintini of Felicis-Ventures, Ryan Kottenstett from Klosla Ventures, and Rob Coneybeer, managing director at Shasta Ventures. The discussion started out focusing on what they looked for in evaluating start-ups as investments, but meandered delightfully, and fruitfully, to the subject of telepresence, self-quantification, and other emerging technologies that might or might not be “overheated” in the current market. The future of consumer 3D printing, in particular, was a subject of considerable, intelligent, and extremely well-informed debate.

And that was just Day 1.

The Social Response to HIW

Social media was abuzz at HIW. Here is a sampling:

David Bryant ‏@david_bryant1h “We can learn a lot about branding from Batman,” @rstephens at #MakeHIW

Nathaniel Manning ‏@natpmanning1h “Learn to live without a PR firm, learn to do it for yourself. Builds employee culture.”

Lemnos Labs Inc ‏@lemnoslabs1h “Get to the second generation of your product as soon as possible” Dave Merrill, Sifteo #makehiw

Matthew F. Reyes ‏@motorbikematt2h Via @rstephens: “Ramen noodles are the universal logo of Makers” #MakeHIW

Rachel Kalmar ‏@grapealope15m “It’s really easy to have a working prototype. But 99% of the work is productizing it and bringing it to market.” @trae #makeHIW

Rachel Kalmar ‏@grapealope11m “The 2nd most overheated area in hardware? 3D printing. We’re still a few years away from having consumer-level ones.” @robconeybeer #makeHIW

Here are some scenes from the day:

–Stett Holbrook, Sean Ragan, D.C. Denison, Marc de Vinck, and Andrew Terranova contributed to this story. Photos by Gregory Hayes.

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Ken is the Grand Nagus of GeekDad.com. He's a husband and father from the SF Bay Area, and has written three books filled with projects for geeky parents and kids to share.

View more articles by Ken Denmead
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