Is New York the Next Hardware Epicenter?

Over the past decade I have had a front row seat to the Hardware Renaissance. Having built Contour during a time period when “hardware” was considered a dirty word, I had the opportunity to watch Shenzen, Hong Kong, and San Francisco become the hardware startup ecosystems that everyone is talking about.

Primarily a west coast phenomenon, I didn’t spend much time in New York, until this last week. Not expecting much, I left the big Apple blown away by the energy of the hardware scene and convinced that New York will be one the epicenters for the hardware revolution.

Quietly, New York is building a thriving hardware scene from hackers to successful, multi million dollar companies. And although the shift has been recent, the depth and breadth of what is happening there is impressive.

Here are a few highlights of what I experienced.

Building hardware at Adafruit

Adafruit – Innovative Commerce
Adafruit, a maker focused website, has the potential to become the Zappos of the electronics market. Their roots in designing beautiful, open-source hardware is transcending into a passionate community of builders. Their education programs, company transparency, and incredible customer service leaves no doubt they are going to build something amazing. Well beyond the hardware components you can buy on their website, they are slowly creating a platform that enables anyone to build hardware faster, more affordably and with higher quality.

Makerbot – USA Made
The successful execution of Makerbot not only proves that 3D printing makes it cheaper to bring hardware products to market, but more importantly the building of their own factory proves you can manufacture high quality products in the US. Not for everyone, they are demonstrating that with high end, high touch products it’s more profitable to build locally than in Asia. Their exit is important for the hardware startup community, demonstrating that startups who build physical hardware can be lucrative acquisition targets. An impressive entrepreneur, what I found most interesting about Bre’s story is that he moved from Seattle to NY because in his mind there was no doubt about the city’s ferocious appetite to build hardware.

Craft Night at NYC Resistor. Open to the public every Thursday evening.

NYC Resistor – A Hacker Collective
Co-founded by Bre from Makerbot, this is a 50 person community of hardware builders and community activists. A who’s who in the NY scene, they are a collective that focuses on building, teaching, and sharing with the local community. Open after work hours they have a variety of regular events that enable anyone to work on their own projects as well as learn how to hack hardware. The space is small, but inspiring.

Hardware Meet-Up – A Fast Growing Event
Almost 1,000 members strong, this group gets together every month to talk about hardware, pitch new ideas, and meet people passionate about building startups. Similar to the San Francisco meet-ups, the NY group is growing quickly with a variety of members from builders to investors. The breadth of community involvement continues to demonstrate a significant interest in hardware startups.

Quirky – An Innovation Machine
If you ever have the chance to visit Quirky, I highly recommend it. Founded by Ben Kaufman, his energy reflects the momentum you can see all around when you visit this fast growing startup. Yes, they are known more for plastic products than hardware, but that is going to change as Ben and his team move from dumb to smart, app enabled products. They are hiring some incredible design, engineering, and production talent in NY that will continue to be disruptive against established hardware companies. Their ability to harness the crowd combined with an incredibly fast development process is like something I have never seen before.

Boxee – Valuable Experience for New York
A hardware and software company, Boxee’s experience is important for the growing hardware scene in New York. Although it wasn’t a mega exit, they do have an incredibly talented team that can now give back to other hardware startups. Their lessons in retail, customer acquisition, content, and strategic partnerships are just some of the lessons learned that will benefit the community. I am sure that their new connections within Samsung will also benefit a startup or two down the road.

Investors – Interested in Hardware
I met with a handful of venture capitalists and angel investors while in NY and the consistent message I heard is “we are interested in hardware.” Their growing attendance in hardware meet-ups and their interest in new hardware companies is a shift from the last time I visited the big apple. Even the NY Techstars class of 2013 included Dash, a connected hardware product for your car.

Media – Big Time Publications
New York trumps everyone when it comes to editorial power. Home to Engadget, Gizmodo, NY Times, The Verge, CNET, and Mashable, this collective group of editors can provide news coverage unseen in rival cities. San Francisco has some great editors, but nothing like New York. Being able to build long term relationships with these editors is a serious advantage for NY based startups.

If you are thinking about where to build your hardware startup, I would seriously consider New York. The quantity of talent and the quality of the growing community are important for your success.

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