The Hardware Startup Renaissance

The hardware startup renaissance is upon us and in a troubled market, both established companies and entrepreneurs are welcoming it with open arms.  The decade long gold rush to develop web software Apps is maturing.  Increasingly innovators are combining physical hard goods with new Apps in their product plans.  A suite of software platforms, wireless hardware modules, flexible manufacturing processes and low cost single item shipping are making the design, development and delivery of these products easier for ever smaller enterprises and virtual companies.

“It's a shift that Silicon Valley has taken note of in the last couple of years. Hardware startups are increasingly sharing the spotlight with software companies.” Alex Chang – Wired

It is good to see the pendulum swinging back towards an array of Gizmos, Gadgets and physical products that when combined with apps provide new ideas for smart devices that deliver great value to the user and utilize the global digital network that connects us all.

“The Hardware Renaissance” is unmissable. Paul Graham has noticed it and, certainly, my credit card has. Where once, entrepreneurs turned to software to form their ‘next big thing’, there is an increasing trend towards hardware in this space – Richard Oakley VentureBurn

There are many hardware opportunities and rich intellectual property opportunities for product ideas in a wirelessly connected world.  The last hardware revolution was the 80’s and 90’s with infrastructure build out of the landline and wireless telecom and data networks.  Once the network infrastructure and platform software was in place, the add-on product over the last decade has been mostly software apps.  These Apps were modular, simpler for smaller enterprises to build and the technically sophisticated portable hardware platforms (tablets and smart phones) were available.  As the software only opportunities mature the new value is found in combining Apps with hardware, looking at niche markets that leverage the network infrastructure and access to data in the cloud.  Product teams are designing to provide real time access for people to enhance their relationships, provide media, information and awareness of important things, in a personalized way.

Hardware is much riskier than software.  It can take significant capital, the amount depends on how much software and hardware development the new product is going to require.  With existing platforms and modular components it is getting much easier to develop hardware product.  The process does not go away as you still need to build prototype after prototype before you can go into production.  A wrong choice of features or failed prototype success can mean tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars lost. It's easy to take a wrong turn.  As the hardware is being completed, you have electronics and software development to do.  Hardware development also requires selecting manufacturers, designing packaging, organizing logistics, testing the product and passing regulatory compliance, then financing and managing your build inventories.

Three key enablers have come into the market in the last few years, (1) Rapid Design- Prototype - Build techniques including Crowd Sourcing of simpler products, (2) Crowd Funding ‘Kickstarters’ where individuals help fund a project for the thrill of being involved and the possible reward of being first to have the new product and (3) An increase in the number of people wanting to invent (possibly due to a troubled economy), and companies needing to take higher risk and innovate.

Design 1st is Ottawa’s largest independent hard goods product design and engineering team, inventing and developing product with R&D departments and Start Ups across North America.  Over the past 3 years we have witnessed the hardware product renaissance first hand.  Clients are asking help to put wireless devices on athletes – real time video in moving vehicles – monitor patient’s health and safety  – smart devices for home management – heart and breath belts for nutrition and fitness tracking – Security Camera control by smart phone – real time poker game dealer monitoring – hydro, heat, LED lighting and fluid monitoring for commercial spaces providing real time adjustment and alerting, and many more standalone products in widely different markets.

Development time frames to invent, test and engineer are being reduced from over a year to less than six months.  The process has evolved into smaller teams of experts, faster project times, lower R&D costs, test verifying markets quicker with prototypes and ability to commit to lower production volumes. The coming wave is a wealth of appealing high quality product that used to only be possible with larger firms.

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  • Is product partially designed already?
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  • Does the new product have wireless radio, connect to the internet? to smartphone? other?
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