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What Startup Camps Can Do to Create Hardware Products: Reflections from my Women 2.0 Labs Cohort

It’s the night before my team’s last presentation and I am reflecting on my experience. Namely that as a hardware person, I spent most of my time feeling like a fish out of water because most of the focus was on web-based business concepts. Furthermore, personalities often shape who ends up in a team instead of appropriate skill sets. I like my team, but I wondered how to get more out of the program and/or meet more people with similar interested and industry experience.

This is the list of ideas I have to make these types of programs more friendly to hardware or other industries that have long development times:

1. You need a high concentration of people with the right skills. Your chances of getting these people increase if you sell a specific ticket for hardware/firmware people or have a check box for them on your camp’s application.

2. If you are promoting a specific methodology such as rapid prototyping model, you need to show how to apply it to hardware or these other long-horizon industries (medical, biotech, pharmaceuticals, ICs, etc…).

3. Invite relevant advisors. It can be difficult for participants to learn from the assigned advisors when the advisors don’t have relevant experience with hardware. It’s hard to take the feedback seriously much less understand it. For hardware, Lady Ada’s Limor or Jeri Ellsworth would be wonderful additions for advisors.

4. Fact: Doing anything involving hardware (read: non-web-based) takes longer than a weekend or 5 weeks. A longer camp period with fewer weekly meetings would be beneficial. 8 weeks is a minimum.

5. Fact: Hardware costs more. This alone prices a lot of hobbyists, new grads, and entrepreneurs out of the market. But electronics geeks and other hardware types exist and can great real value immediately. The problem is your startup program needs to provide teams with the materials to build anything. A stipend or a selection of parts (evaluation kits) would take care of the some of time constraints hardware projects always have. Get local component/HW companies to serve as sponsors for the camp. I’m sure Digi-key, Maker Shed, Mouser, Sparkfun, or Jameco would be interested in donating some items. Halted can easily supplement these basic boards.

6. You’ll need to provide space to work. More importantly, teams need lab space to work in. While many hobbyists have a lot of this equipment, not everyone has good equipment. Space in a local co working space or community center is required. Hacker Dojo has a great lab that is mostly underutilized. Plug and Play Tech Centers or Tech Shop also could be useful.

7. Since look and feel are so important to doing customer discovery and hardware is a physical entity, providing low cost manufacturing or technicians to build PCB prototypes.

8. Understandably you the organizer will need to adjust your participant costs upward. You will just need to figure out how to provide value to prospective participants.

9. Location matters. There aren’t a lot of hardware shops in SF due to rent costs. It’s why I do not work or live in San Francisco. Whereas, Silicon Valley (San Jose area) is a more fertile ground for hardware and its investors. Move where the hardware people are if you hope to attract them. And do not forget that there are great engineering universities with strong entrepreneurship programs in the South Bay.

10. Allow for reuse of ideas. Hardware takes a long time, any forethought should still be welcomed. As we all know a new team can make the idea change, but implementation ideas take more time.

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