Article Published: May 13, 2016
Article Published: May 13, 2016
By Steve Fisher
“It’s the easiest time in human history to start a hardware company,” said Mark Hatch, CEO of Techshop, to kick off this year's Hardware Cup.
The room was almost full, more than 230 people turned out to listen to 11 startups pitch their products to seven judges from around the country at AlphaLab Gear’s East End offices. What unified them?
Only two things: They need more capital and they're bringing physical products to market.
How did all this come about?
It took more than four months, as AlphaLab Gear’s team traveled to nine cities and held competitions to find top startups. Each winning team won $1,000 in their respective city's competition and came together in Pittsburgh to compete for a meatier prize: $50,000 provided by Startbot. And a too-cool, 3D-printed golden metal trophy from ExOne.
Those nine teams were joined by two from South Korea and two non-presenting middle schooler teams from Pittsburgh’s Propel Schools, mixing business planning with classic teen hustles of lawn-mowing and babysitting.
The structure was simple: Each team would have four minutes to present their product, business plan and their vision of where they could go. Followed by five minutes of answering pointed questions from the experienced venture capitalists (VCs) in the judge’s panel.
Just nine minutes to tell their story and defend it from pointed questions.
Each presentation was dense, packed with figures and details of what the teams had done and were doing to bring their visions to market.
So, what products were pitched?
You can see for yourself here: http://alphalabgear.org/hardwarecupfinals/
In the end, there were only three winners.
Third place went to Dog Parker, a by-the-minute dog boarding solution for pedestrian-heavy areas like New York City. It helps dog owners save time by walking their dogs and doing errands at once.
Botfactory, a printed circuit board printer, took second place. It simplifies learning circuit board design and reducing month-long delays for circuit boards to be produced and recieved during design.
But, the first prize went to Lucidcam, the world’s first 3D consumer camera for virtual reality (VR). By connecting its camera to your smartphone, Lucidcam can make an inexpensive and lightweight system for creating immersive environments for VR.
Lucidcam’s founder, Han Jin's passion for VR stems from a childhood pain shared by many of today’s technomads: He lived in different places than his loved ones.
The conversation quickly turned to the challenges of bringing together a technology as ambitious as virtual reality: "As VR adoption is still slow, it is even more crucial for VCs during those times to bet on a strong team with a clear vision behind a great technology and business model."
When the question of where the $50,000 he’d just won will go, Jin’s answer was instant: manufacturing costs. Sadly, his schedule didn’t allow for much time to visit Pittsburgh.
With so many people from out of town, we made sure to quiz them on our fair 'Burgh. The consensus was positive, with judge Betaspring’s Melissa Withers’ commenting she found the diversity of entrepreneurs and ideas brought together in AlphaLab Gear exciting and that it bodes well for the region.
All in all, a competitive event with some of the best new startups in the country. AlphaLab Gear displayed no less ambition: The Hardware Cup has been successful enough they’re looking to expand it internationally.
To sum it up, Ilana Diamond, AlphaLab Gear’s Managing Director said, “It was really exciting to bring in the newest, most promising hardware startups into Pittsburgh and introduce them to our entrepreneur community and VCs from around the country. And it’s inspiring to local businesses to see the caliber of talent we’ve brought in.”