The Maker Movement, which is allowing innovative ideas to bubble up from individuals, is changing the way electronics hardware is being brought to market. The electronics industry had better sit up and take notice since this group is coming up with some of the best and brightest new ideas.
"There's a deeper meaning to maker movement: it's letting people leverage a new way to bring electronic hardware to market," said Glenn Bassett, co-founder and managing director of consulting firm NuVentures Ltd., in a talk this week at the ECIA Executive Conference in Chicago. "It encourages people to reuse intellectual property and build upon it."
By any measure the maker movement is taking off. For example, the Maker Faire Bay Area, which is in its 10th year, is expected to attract more than 1,200 maker entries, more than 145,000 attendees, and more than 95 sponsors in 2015. TechShop locations are cropping up across the United States, giving would be designers and inventors tools and expertise to get what they have in their heads or on paper into a makeable and marketable form. In fact, by some estimates there are currently more than 150 million makers in the United States, Bassett said.
"Hardware is cool again," Bassett said, reminding the audience of predications made in the late 1990s that the hardware was dead, having given way to the predominance of software. "Now, t's cool again to create things because the barriers to creation and production have started to fall down. Young people are interested in it again."
Although building a factory remains out of the reach of the average inventor, powerful computer-aided design (CAD) software is increasingly affordable. "These products now are intuitive to use and give you head start, putting you well into process of designing a product without designing a circuit," Bassett said. "The same is true on the 3D modeling side of things. The access to the means of design is everywhere."
Further, there is a perfect storm of tools, community and capital to support would-be electronics innovators, Bassett said. A variety of open-source electronic prototyping platform, such as the Arduino, Beetle and Raspberry Pi boards, aid quick and easy design. Meanwhile, the maker community has created opportunities to prototype without huge investments by building maker spaces, such as Huckster.io, Make IT, Maker Space, and Tech Shop, that offer tools and experienced staff to help. Crowdsourcing platforms, such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, let potential customers vote with their dollars on ideas that they would like to see come to fruition.
Most recently, these electronic innovators have gotten access to global manufacturing and distribution channels. Seeed Studio, ShipWire, HAX, CircuitHub, ProtoLabs, and SparkFun Electronics all help small startups and individuals with manufacturing and logistics tasks needed to get a product to market.
The end result of these evolutions is that an innovator who might have sold his great idea to the nearest OEM for a pittance can now get it to market himself. "Before, it was a lot lower profit coming your way," said Bassett. "You'd see your thing sell and you'd wish you had been able to do it yourself."
In the brave, new maker world, that old scenario is turned on its head. Bassett explained:
Now, you might have an idea in the shower, go to the Tech Shop and flesh it out; get it to concept; excite people about it; then get crowd source funding; then find manufacturing to produce small batches locally; and then go to eBay, Etsy or Amazon to reach larger audiences. This is where the maker movement is important. There's a way to bring new and innovative products to market."
For some percentage of these makers, the ones who have a big idea, OEM partners, contract manufacturers and other electronics market players are going to be critically important. Bassett breaks makers into four categories:
- Makers, who build for fun, education or simple good will;
- Maker pros, who turn their hobby into a business of making tools for other makers;
- Inventors, who might have an idea and license it rather than developing it full time;
- And, most importantly, hardware startups, who have an idea that they want to bring to market.
This last group can offer a great opportunity to the electronics industry. These startup companies are plentiful. In fact, as of March 2015, AngelList, a dedicated fund for startups, listed 3,022 hardware startups in the United States.
All are looking for help. "They can't do it without the help of people who can manufacture at scale," explained Bassett. "As you make more, it gets cheaper. You need to find a means of production, someone who has the wherewithal to make the product."
How do you see the broader electronics industry creating synergy with would-be hardware startups? Let us know in the comments section below.
— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN
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