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Research Reveals Key Challenges in Turning Design Ideas into Winning Products

New research suggests that it’s much easier for hardware designers to find the right tools and technologies to bring their ideas to life, but all the more difficult to bring those products to market.

A survey of more than 400 engineers, makers and entrepreneurs in the Hackster.io community revealed designers face increasing friction in getting beyond the prototype stage. It is largely due to challenges in obtaining financing, understanding their technology options, and building differentiating products. However, there are resources available for designers to more effectively work through the product development cycle and ultimately bring their ideas to market.

Raising money has been a perennial challenge for hardware entrepreneurs because early-stage investors are leery to fund development projects that are long, complicated and capital intensive. Getting the next breakthrough smart wearable device from conception to mass production, for example, demands many iterations in which the product can stall or fail as the designer works through challenges like low-power requirements, connectivity or shrinking the product down to consumer-friendly size. Investors like great ideas and bright innovators, but not prolonged and risky research and development (R&D) cycles. So they are more apt to jump in toward the end of the product development cycle when a proven prototype needs funding to scale.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents said that it is getting more difficult to obtain funding, with roughly three-quarters (73%) admitting they haven’t even tried yet. And when they do, only 61% secure funding during the prototype stage.

[Accelerator Grades Hardware Startups.]

That is why more and more designers are turning to crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter to fuel early development. Crowdfunding and other non-traditional sources of capital are becoming increasingly essential to continuing hardware innovation.

The second challenge designers face is determining which technologies best suit their ideas. There are so many competing tools and components these days that it is difficult for individual entrepreneurs to sort it all out on their own. An abundance of options is a nice problem to have, but more and more designers are turning to developer communities and development partners for guidance.

Online communities dedicated to hardware development learning offer independent designers a rich collective intelligence and a place where they can share thoughts and ideas on designs and prototype development. It is one reason why 76% of those surveyed in the Hackster.io community said that it is easier to develop and test design ideas than ever before. Rather than inventing something in isolation, these peer-supported communities bring together engineers and makers from around the world to share advice on building Internet-connected hardware ranging from home automation, IoT and robotics products to figuring out the complexities of security, processors and wireless communications.  

Finding a technology distributor partner with knowledge about and access to a range of technologies can also help entrepreneurs address technology challenges and gaps. Most of today’s hardware innovations require that designers master a diversity of specialties. Sufficiently understanding everything they need to know about MEMS sensors, Bluetooth communications, battery power management and other engineering nuances is typically beyond the capabilities of a single designer. Designers are advised to accept what they don’t know and seek external expertise for those areas. One bad choice of a battery charging power control module, for instance, could increase the designer’s bill of materials costs or result in subpar battery performance that kills a product’s commercial success. These partnerships can make the product more attractive to investors because it assures them the designer made informed choices about ways to better contain costs, optimize performance, and manage inventory lead times.

Technology partnerships can also help address the third key challenge of designing differentiating products. Designing a winning product that is truly novel requires a great understanding of the subsystem landscape. Technology partners have a better handle on what new technologies are coming down the road that may be game changers for a device market, as well as what technologies may soon be obsolete.

For the growing hardware entrepreneur, there is good news and continuing challenges. While it is much easier today to identify technologies for their ideas and use those ideas to develop and test prototypes, success hinges on attracting financing and seeking external expertise to bring those products to life. 

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