HAXLR8R is back and is searching for the next big thing in hardware

26 Oct 2012

HAXLR8R, the international accelerator programme that searches for 10 start-ups on the verge of producing the next must-have consumer products, mentors them and brings their product from concept to prototype and beyond is about to kick off again.

The accelerator programme with a difference selects 10 start-ups, brings them to China where they will be mentored by successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, gets their products made in Shenzhen, China, and then brings them to Silicon Valley where they can pitch to the world’s top venture capitalists.

Mentors on this year’s programme include Dragons’ Den star Sean O’Sullivan, Bill Warner of AVID/Warner Research, Foundry Group co-founder Brad Feld, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and celebrated San Francisco, California, hacker Mitch Altman. Zach Smith, creator of MakerBot, will be programme director of this year’s HAXLR8R programme. The mentors list also includes Cory Kidd of Intuitive Automata, the company that will produce the Autom robots in partnership with Liam Casey’s PCH International.

The programme is open to companies all over the world, and Irish start-ups are being urged to apply.

The HAXLR8R programme was created by Cyril Ebersweiler (Chinaccelerator), Eric Pan (SeedStudio) and O’Sullivan (MapInfo/Avego).

HAXLR8R is supported and led by SOSventures, which has already begun supporting start-ups in China via its Chinaccelerator programme.

Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com from China this morning, Ebersweiler said the 2012 programme will kick off at the end of January and will see the successful start-ups selected for the programme spend up to the end of April bringing their product from the idea stage to working prototype stage.

Last year, nine start-ups – five from the US, two from Europe (Croatia and Estonia) and two from Asia (China and Japan) – took part in the programme. One of the participants, Nomiku, from San Francisco, went on to raise US$600,000 on Kickstarter for its kitchen appliance that makes food taste better.

Ebersweiler explained that the inspiration for pursuing producers of physical products as opposed to virtual (social media, software) came from the growing realisation by a group of like-minded investors that it isn’t all about software and that the coming decades will be about producing elegant and useful physical goods.

“We reached a plateau and we realised that many start-ups were focused on software but in terms of physical goods not many start-ups were focused on fundamental things.

“Hardware can be a gadget but for the most part it is a physical product that fits into the lives of people in an impactful way.”

Impacting on the future

Ebersweiler said a revolution in hardware design is under way and this goes beyond the smartphone. “Amazing new products in robotics, medical devices and home appliances are emerging and at the same time the costs involved including the supply chain, processing power, being able to prototype are falling and a better sense of design has taken hold. For start-ups they can really try to be successful and new avenues for funding, including crowdfunding, are emerging.

“And so start-ups are being disruptive, not only on the software side, but the same thing is happening on the hardware side.

“This can be a bit scary for the large corporate players. I’m always complaining about why we still don’t have proper connected TVs in the world and that’s because electronics giants come up against the innovator’s dilemma. They don’t want to jeopardise existing sales by disrupting the market.

“But start-ups don’t care about that and are attacking everything. We’re seeing this in terms of cars from Tesla and Nest’s thermostat.”

Another example is a start-up called Leap Motion, that Ebersweiler advises. The firm’s US$70 device promises more accurate motion tracking than Microsoft’s Kinect sensor. Leap Motion’s product was named most innovative product of the year by US tech site Ars Technica.

But Ebersweiler noted that while the world is becoming more attuned to attractive, well designed and useful products, bringing a hardware product to market is harder than you’d think and often the battle is getting beyond the first 1,000 units manufactured and getting them selected by retailers.

That is why getting the attention and involvement of some of the world’s most savvy creators and investors could prove invaluable to lucky start-ups that get selected for the HAXLR8R programme.

“The goal is not to put more crap on Earth, the goal is to build products that have an impact on people but also provide a better way to build things; by being more transparent and bringing more efficiencies to the supply chain. More efficiencies equal less waste,” Ebersweiler said.

HAXLR8R will be accepting applications up until 18 November and the programme will kick off in January in China with the start-ups heading to Silicon Valley in April to demonstrate their prototypes and pitch to venture capitalists

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years