SAN FRANCISCO—Getting a leg up in the hardware industry as a small company can be a challenge, even with a great product. So a group of international investors and tech enthusiasts created a community with the express purpose of helping hardware startups thrive.
Hardware Club isn’t an incubator or an accelerator, but a multi-national club exclusively for hardware startups that provides networking help with manufacturing, distribution and, sometimes, investment. The year-old club is stage and location agnostic, with 135 member startups from more than 20 countries, and offices in San Francisco, Taipei, and Paris.
French co-founders Barbara Belvisi and Alexis Houssou met in business school and shared a love of hardware, but many of the startups they knew had difficulty accessing the resources needed to scale. The club received 1,000 applications in the first year alone—a sign that the startup tide is changing to favor hardware.
Creating a new hardware company has become easier due to a “hardware revolution”—innovation spurred by the invention of the iPhone and associated connectivity, cheap development platforms such as Raspberry Pi and Arduino, 3D printing, and crowdfunding platforms, Belvisi said. Although the technology is there, getting a company to the next level is a difficult task.
In a competitive and complex market, startups often don’t have a good entry point for manufacturing or distribution. Major manufacturers and distributors can't filter through the immense number of startups that want to work with them. To that end, Hardware Club offers “qualified introductions” to contract manufactures such as Foxconn and component companies such as Avnet, Intel, Qualcomm and STMicroelectronics—all free for members and boasting a 95% matching rate.
The networking opportunities have been instrumental for startup Prynt, which shares a co-working space with Hardware Club in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood. Prynt Co-Founder David Zhang said he met Belvisi and Houssou when they were jurors for a startup contest several years ago, and Prynt was an early Hardware Club member.
Prynt's phone case instantly prints pictures, like a Polaroid.
“It’s a lot of networking [help]. You have lunch with the founders of [wearable camera company] Narrative, or people from Misfit Wearables,” Zhang said. “This is the most powerful thing we can get from the club because at some point, we need experience from everyone. They open a lot of doors.”
Hardware Club leveraged its own networks to create these connections, with two partners dedicated to making manufacturing and distribution matches in various markets. Jerry Yang is a Taiwanese semiconductor entrepreneur whose company was purchased by Atheros (before Qualcomm acquired Atheros), while Caroline Lair helped build Apple’s European distributor network and did business development for a company eventually acquired by Google.
Next Page: Show me the money