Maker Pro News: Pebble Pinching, Hardware Incubator Frontiers, and More

Maker News
Maker Pro News: Pebble Pinching, Hardware Incubator Frontiers, and More

“Feel free to break all the rules.” — HomeMade Modern Founder Ben Uyeda


Pebble: Embracing Defeat

Pebble (@Pebble), the maker pro darling that launched its iconic smartwatch in an historic Kickstarter campaign that almost singlehandedly legitimized the role of crowdfunding in hardware development, has thrown in the towel. Unable to turn a profit, founder Eric Migicovsky (@ericmigi) has sold off the company’s assets and intellectual property to competitor Fitbit (@fitbit).

By a certain Silicon Valley logic, writes Backchannel’s Steven Levy (@StevenLevy), Migicovsky ought to be thrilled. After all, he fought his way to prominence and sold more than two million watches. In the scrappy culture of Y Combinator (@ycombinator), where Pebble started out, a successful exit is often branded as a badge of honor, even under less-than-auspicious circumstances.

But Levy, who’s reported closely on Pebble over the years, found Migicovsky to be pensive about the sale. Migicovsky now realizes that he was too late to understand that the key market for wearables was fitness, and wishes he’d pivoted earlier. One sobering takeaway: Pebble’s return to Kickstarter earlier this year to fund the now-canceled Pebble Core wasn’t a nod to its roots on the site — rather, it was because the company was unable to secure funding through traditional channels.

The financial details of the deal aren’t public, but Migicovsky says he chose Fitbit as a buyer for at least one noble reason: because it promised to continue to support Pebble users and developers going forward.

Inside the Next Generation of Hardware Incubators

Remember when Luke Iseman (@liseman), who was supposed to guide Y Combinator into the world of hardware startups, quit after just one year? Running an incubator for hardware startups presents galling challenges — everything about building a physical product is riskier and more expensive than software.

But we’re seeing some exciting experiments in the space right now. Venturebeat ran a compelling profile this week of Barbara Belvisi (@b_belvisi) and Alexis Houssou (@A_Houssou), who together founded Hardware Club (@hardware_club), a Bay Area incubator that picks applicants based on their commitment to collaboration and open ecosystems. Intriguingly, the incubator is planning to open a line of retail stores that will sell its participants’ products this coming year.

In Cambridge, details are emerging about The Engine (@enginexyz), MIT’s hotly anticipated startup accelerator. At a community meeting earlier this month, MIT president Rafael Reif described the project to become an “innovation orchard” that he wants to see bring together the best elements of the public, for-profit, and nonprofit sectors.

And in Cleveland, a new incubator called Prep (@prepkitchencle) wants to help culinary startups grow with a shared kitchen and food production space. It’s styling itself as an in-between space where chefs can experiment and ramp up ventures, with room for tastings and private dinners to woo investors.

Ben Uyeda: Throw Out the Rulebook

Make: correspondent Shawn Jolicoeur covered the live taping of the Making It (@makingitpodcast) podcast’s 100th episode. The entire event sounds like a blast, but what stood out to Jolicoeur was a presentation by designer Ben Uyeda (@BenUyeda), the founder of HomeMade Modern.

Uyeda’s entire talk is worth watching, because he went meta. Instead of exhorting the crowd to become makers themselves, as is his modus operandi, he offered some tips he’s learned on how to effectively promote a YouTube channel or podcast like Making It. His main takeaway: focus on what excites you, and let that enthusiasm inspire others.

“Feel free to break all the rules,” Uyeda said.


Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web:

A terrific Fast Company story about the gold rush of companies scrambling to invent the chips that will make the next wave of Siri-like AI assistants faster and smarter draws attention to hardware startups in the space that are keeping Intel and Nvidia on their toes — take Graphcore (@graphcoreai), for instance, which was founded to build deep learning chips, or Movidius (@movidius), which specializes in tiny devices for next-gen wearables.

When Next Dynamics’ (@nextdynamics) Ben Hartkopp and Ludwig Faeber stopped by the Make: offices to show off their soon-to-be-Kickstarted NexD1 3D printer, Executive Editor Mike Senese (@msenese) was impressed. If all goes according to plan, Senese suspects the machine’s polyjet printing system and multimaterial fabrication capabilities could set a new standard for consumer-grade 3D printers.

Boston startup Vesper, which has invented a new type of microphone, has made the big leagues with a $15 million round of funding led by Amazon (@amazon). An Amazon spokesperson said the company’s plan is to use Vesper’s microphone technology to improve Alexa, the web giant’s personal assistant platform.

We’ve already heard about Snap Inc.’s (@Snap) hipstery, camera-enabled spectacles that the company hopes might succeed where Google Glass fizzled. Now, a new contender called Vue (@vueglasses) is trying something similar with a line of stylish prescription frames — outfitted with bone conduction audio tech, step tracking, and gesture control. It’s already raised more than $2.2 million.

And on the Make: blog, Caleb Kraft (@calebkraft) covers the work of James Bruton (@XRobotsUK), a “robot making madman” whose life-size recreations of droids from the Star Wars universe push the limits of 3D printing.

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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