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Maker Pro News: Hardware is Still Hard, The Rise of Re-Kickstarting, and More

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Maker Pro News: Hardware is Still Hard, The Rise of Re-Kickstarting, and More

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“What we do is provide entire missions.” – Open Cosmos Founder Rafael Jordà Siquier

The State of the Hardware Startup

The maker pros at ShapeScale (@shape_scale), Y Combinator (@ycombinator) alumni who are working to ship a fitness-oriented combination scale and 3D body scanner, took to Reddit this week to publish a provocative insider’s perspective on the contemporary hardware economy.

The authors identify the period from 2012 to 2015 as a boom time, as a cohort of ventures like Nest (@nest), Oculus (@oculus), and FitBit (@fitbit) leveraged crowdfunding and next-gen prototyping tech into a series of high profile triumphs and exits. VCs took notice; there was talk of a hardware renaissance. But in recent years, they say that the party has dampened as those once superstar hardware sellers struggled to maintain momentum, big tech stepped up, and newcomers fell into the long shadow cast by both groups.

“With so many of the top tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Amazon now making their own consumer hardware, it seems harder than ever for a startup to scale from niche market to mass-adopted tech market,” the ShapeScale team wrote. “If there’s a new large market like smartphones, wearables, or even now VR it quickly gets crowded.”

Of course, ShapeScale is still bullish enough to charge into battle with its own novel consumer product. It’s worth noting that its co-founders met at Dim Sum (@dimsumlabs), a hacker space in Hong Kong. And nota bene: there seems to be new life in the r/hwstartups subreddit lately.

RIP Intel Joule, Galileo, Edison

In a difficult hardware market, even golden age Silicon Valley megacorps can feel the pinch. Hackaday’s Jenny List (@Jenny_Altonoticed that Intel very quietly discontinued its much-hyped Joule, Galileo, and Edison boards this week — an apparent concession to the ongoing dominance of the Arduino (@ArduinoOrg) and Raspberry Pi (@Raspberry_Pi) communities.

Intel had pushed its dev boards hard in the maker community in recent years, but struggled to find a foothold. The pessimistic view: in these wintry economic times, even a major-market launch by a storied chipmaker is something of a weather balloon. On the bright side, the company’s Curie module line appears to be robust — for the time being.

A Victory Lap for Kickstarter Stars

Despite growing skepticism about crowdfunding writ large, industry frontrunner Kickstarter has maintained good optics with its collaborative campaign to support hardware makers and innovate video work, and, perhaps above all, its savvy curation.

Take Kickstarter Gold, an initiative in which the company is inviting some of its best-known alums back for victory lap rounds that will fund expansions, sequels, and spinoffs to iconic campaigns. Participants so far include 3Doodler (@3Doodler), Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (@ZachWeiner), and more. Our read? Kickstarter understands that recurring revenue is key to its own success, not just that of its campaigners.

In an email, Kickstarter rep David Gallagher said, “This is our most ambitious effort yet to rally creators to participate in something special.” The company has seen more than $1 billion pledged to campaigns by serial creators, he told us.

Spacetech Cubesat Startup

Move aside, SpaceX. That’s the idea behind Open Cosmos (@Open_Cosmos), a British spacetech startup that’s offering lilliputian cubesat launches for as little as $637,000 — a tiny fraction of the standard rate — in a move that could open up space communications to a much broader market.

The company already has one satellite in orbit. It’s keeping costs low, according to founder Rafael Jordà Siquier (@RafelJorda), through extensive use of standardized systems and simulations.

“What we do is provide entire missions,” Siquier said. “Customers come in with a payload or even just with a data requirement, and we do everything else so that they get that data.”

Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web

A TechCrunch Live event featuring HAX (@hax_co) partner Benjamin Joffe (@benjaminjoffe) and Shenzhen Valley Ventures (@svv_io) director Chad Xu on the evolving role of Shenzhen as Chinese startups start to go global is a must-read for manufacturing wonks.

Spotted at Maker Faire Barcelona (@MakerfaireBCN): a promising crop of maker pro ventures in the education, greentech and education spaces.

Startup community Hardware Club (@hardware_club) raised a modest $28 million for its first venture fund. Its plans are to invest in 10–15 seed-stage startups over the next three years.

On the Make: blog, Digital Fabrication Editor Matt Stultz (@MattStultz) reviewed Taulman 3D’s (@taulman3DT-Lyne filament, a sturdy polyethylene co-polymer that can be re-shaped in hot water — making it a promising material for fitting prosthetics.

Also on the blog, contributor Chiara Cecchini (@ClaireCecchini) profiled two new food startups: bee-friendly almond seller Turtle Haus (@turtle_haus) and Spice Mama, a startup at San Mateo foodtech accelerator KitchenTown (@KITCHENTOWN) that’s selling a line of preservative-free Indian sauces.

Misty Robotics, a spinoff of toymaker Sphero (@Sphero), has reportedly raised $11.5 million to develop a mass-market domestic robot aimed at the home and office. Sphero, you’ll recall, built a wildly popular remote controlled BB-8 droid from the Star Wars franchise in partnership with Disney.

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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
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