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Hardware accelerators: Pushing the boundaries of development

Posted: 07 Jan 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Haxlr8r  hardware accelerator  startup  design  IoT 

Making the China connection

About the same time Ebersweiler was working on his first accelerator in Shanghai, Scott Miller was on a similar path in Cambridge, Mass. The mechanical engineer, who once helped design a 1,200-pound robotic dinosaur for Disney, wanted to share skills he gained getting Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners built in China.

"It was getting easier than ever to build a prototype, but harder to build anything in high volume manufacturing," said Miller.

Since 2009, his company, Dragon Innovation, has helped 150 startups make connections with hundreds of China factories in its database. Half of his 28-person team is based in China, said Miller who speaks Mandarin after spending four years there for iRobot. China is "the world's workshop," he said.

Dragon helped smartwatch startup Pebble go from a prototype to mass production. It also assisted Coolest, a startup that raised more than $13 million for a smart margarita maker, making it the biggest fundraiser on Kickstarter to date.

Scott Miller

Scott Miller turned his manufacturing expertise at iRobot into a service for startups at Dragon Innovation.

The accelerator business is "doing awesome, we have been growing like crazy," Miller said of Dragon that made profits in its first four years, then raised $3 million to expand its service offerings. "We see a tremendous market, and it's highly likely we'll go for another round to augment our product team and throw gas on what we do in software," he said,

About three years ago, Sven Illing launched GameFounders, a focused accelerator for gaming products, trying to differentiate himself from the broad, established players such as Ycombinator. He claimed his other incubator, Buildit in Tartu, Estonia, was the first hardware accelerator in Europe.

"During the last three years tens of focused accelerators have emerged, my latest favourite is, a bitcoin accelerator," he said.

Jeremy Conrad's path to founding hardware accelerator Lemnos Labs was a personal one. An MIT grad in chemical engineering, he left work on missile defence systems in 2011 to move to San Francisco and form a startup with a friend.

"We came to the conclusion many people wanted to start a hardware company, but it was too expensive and took too long," Conrad said.

Lemnos has now invested in 21 startups. It gives each one hands-on coaching to get to the point where it is ready to ask for formal funding for a working prototype. There's a solid path for hardware startups, said Conrad, pointing to successful exits of startups such as GoPro, Nest, Beats Electronics and Skybox Imaging.

"It's still very hard, but we see more interest, and a huge surge of people who are very bullish," said Conrad. "The single hardest thing to find is someone talented in writing firmware, so it's a good time to be an EE," he said.

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