The rise of hardware startups: why croudsourced gear is the future

The rise of hardware startups

"In an accelerator programme like Ignite 100, a hardware startup has an advantage that others who opt for crowdfunding may not enjoy - shared workspace. Research and development, marketing and design are all significant costs a hardware company will have to bear, it helps to have those services available in the same room for next to nothing."

Smith said that the rising popularity of starting a hardware company is because of "changing attitudes in technology, the realisation that our understanding improves as we measure and quantify the world around us." He adds: "The fact that small teams that can now afford the raw materials and equipment to build working prototypes means we can begin to explore this domain."

Recognising the importance and popularity of hardware startups, some investment firms are tailoring their accelerator programmes specifically for hardware companies, such as the recently launched Taiwan Mobile Innovation programme, or the oddly named Haxlr8r, which is based in Shenzhen, China.

The people behind the Taiwan Mobile Innovation programme explained that the reason they created it was because entrepreneurs were unable to provide proof of concept or a working prototype to investors, often asking investors to take a leap of faith.


The rise of hardware startups

This feeds into the third reason why things have changed for hardware startups: the production of prototypes. The 3D printing boom has seen affordable 3D printing devices turn up on the market, and companies can now feasibly get an object 3D printed, or buy a machine itself, for a relatively low cost.

Access to expertise, too, has become easier via websites such as Science Exchange, where people can pay for scientists to conduct experiments for them.

Goodlad agreed that 3D printing has had an effect, explaining: "3D printing is in its infancy, but there's lots of potential there [as well as] the openness of manufacturers and sourcing who are using their web as a way of marketing their manufacturing services and products."

These changing factors have created a healthy environment for hardware startups to grow and succeed. In the UK, Cambridge's history in science and engineering (both in academia and business) attracts hardware companies to an established startup ecosystem - most notably ARM.

Smaller companies also migrate there to begin their startup journey. Currently, there are 155 physical science and engineering companies in Cambridge, with a turnover of £1.7bn and over 9,000 employees.

Future hardware startups

The rise of hardware startups

But what does this mean for the future?

The big boys will be taking note and watching carefully. There's clearly a consumer appetite for independent devices, and there's always space for an invention that solves a day-to-day problem.

Innovation can't be monopolised by conglomerates, because, ultimately it will stifle creativity. We're now seeing useful devices being created by normal people with regular day jobs. Indy games console Ouya was created by an ex-games exec, and 3D mouse pointer Mycestro was invented by an engineer.

Goodlad, however, thinks that the big companies will still be pulling the strings: "Every market will have market leaders creating the rules, whether that be Apple, Microsoft or in our case, the payment card issuers. The successful independents will be the ones that establish strong partnerships with them, who gain trust and credibility through creativity and their ability to add value to their partner's business."

Regardless, there are still exciting devices such as Omni, a virtual reality peripheral that enables you to walk on the spot, and a 20 second phone charger that was invented by a US student. These devices that were first dreamed up in someone's bedroom will change the face of technology.

But what's most exciting is that the intrigue, scientific exploration and available technology that fuelled the app surge now exists for hardware. We can look forward to an age where hardware companies are popping up with new devices as quickly as apps do on the Google Play Store. The resultant impact on our future is meaningful but, more importantly, it's mechanical.