Take 42 pitches, seven cities and one $50,000 grand prize, and you’ve got the first ever national hardware competition.
And it’s going on right now.
Pittsburgh-based hardware accelerator AlphaLab Gear has partnered with TechShop, the do-it-yourself fabrication studio with locations nationwide, to hold the AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup. It features local competitions held in each TechShop location with the grand prize winner awarded in Pittsburgh this May.
“There are so many great ideas for physical products that entrepreneurs dream up from their work experience as a designer or engineer, a university project that a team of students is trying to solve, or just an imaginative leap from an individual,” says Ilana Diamond, managing director for AlphaLab Gear. “We want to tap into all these brilliant ideas and give people a way to fund and commercialize their vision.”
Each city hosts its own local event with six finalist teams that were chosen from about 40 to 60 online applications. They each get four minutes to pitch their startup ideas for creating a physical product. The panel of judges, made up of local venture capitalists, investors, experienced entrepreneurs and industry leaders, evaluates the product’s viability, team commitment and passion, says Diamond.
The winner from each local competition will receive a $1,000 cash prize, a single yearlong TechShop membership and Fusion 360 software and support from Autodesk, the official software partner of the National Hardware Cup.
Then it’s on to Pittsburgh for the grand prize competition to vie for a $50,000 investment from venture capital firm StartBot and product design software and other prizes from Autodesk Fusion360.
So far, two TechShop cities have awarded their local winners. In Detroit on February 11, the prize went to Vayu, a company designing an unmanned flying vehicle to transport medicine and blood samples in countries without safe roads. And in Washington, D.C. on February 18, top honors went to HeadsUP!, makers of a transparent windshield display that integrates with smart phones.
Each local event also features a panel discussion with local CEOs and accelerators on how new hardware companies can get off the ground.
“We encourage any students and those with a great idea in each of the cities to attend so that they are aware of the resources in their city that can help them,” says Diamond.
The competition also gives investors a chance to see what is going on both locally and at the national level.
“So even if you didn’t win the regional prize, you’re getting in front of the investors,” says Diamond.
“For many years, hardware hasn’t been accessible. With places like TechShop (entrepreneurs) are able to bring their products to reality and manufacturing state,” says Les Gies of TechShop in Pittsburgh. He likens a TechShop membership to joining a gym with state-of-the-art exercise equipment. TechShop experts mentor and teach member companies how to use tools that, until a few years ago, could only be found in research labs or industrial parks.
“Our goal is to increase the visibility of all the cool things that are happening to hardware startups,” says Diamond.
The next local event takes place in Phoenix on March 11 with other events to follow in Austin, San Francisco and San Jose. The TechShop Pittsburgh pitch competition is on April 15. The finalists from each city will be in town to compete for the grand prize on May 6.