AlphaLab Gear, a new class of accelerator, opens today combining Pittsburgh's deep expertise in manufacturing with its university research and prowess in robotics, software and other technologies. AlphaLab Gear is an accelerator for hardware, robotics and other physical products startups that provides investment, expert mentorship, manufacturing equipment and know-how in a collaborative work space that even includes artists-in-residence to fuel creativity.
Located on the urban edge of the city in East Liberty, AlphaLab Gear is just a block from Google's local headquarters and near TechShop, giving the entrepreneurs easy access to advanced equipment and expertise for building their product prototypes or small production runs.
AlphaLab Gear is based on the model of AlphaLab, one of the nation's leading accelerators, which has helped over 150 entrepreneurs launch 67 companies, including some of the fastest growing startups in the Pittsburgh region. AlphaLab was launched by Innovation Works, (IW) the most active seed-stage investor in Pittsburgh and one of the most active seed- and early-stage investors in the U.S. Funding for AlphaLab Gear is provided in part by IW and local foundations, some of whose founders have their roots in industrialist and venture capital history, including the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.
AlphaLab Gear—0 to 60 in 8 Months
- $25K for 5% equity or $50K for 9% equity
- Intensive business mentoring and assistance from a strong technology/manufacturing/product-based team at AlphaLab Gear and IW plus expertise and advise from a network of mentors who have successfully started product-based companies
- Space in an collaborative work environment
- Membership in nearby TechShop for fabrication equipment, design software and expertise to build prototypes and small manufacturing runs
- Additional funding potential from both IW's seed fund and Startbot, a new funding partner investing in robotics startups.
- The first cycle of companies began in October 2013 and will formally launch at AlphaLab Demo Day in May 2014.
Trends driving the hardware accelerator movement
- Cost to create product prototypes has decreased—Advances in additive manufacturing, such as 3D printing, have helped democratize prototype creation, making production technologies more accessible and affordable for entrepreneurs.
- Cycle times for product development are getting shorter—Rapid prototyping enables entrepreneurs to accelerate the idea-to-implementation timeline to enter and compete in new markets.
- Funding sources for early-stage are more widely available—Models such as crowd-sourcing, and a growing reliance on accelerators to provide a due diligence filter, provide greater opportunities for venture capitalists and other investors to view more vetted ideas.
There's no better place in America to build a robotics, hardware or physical product
Henry Thorne, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Pittsburgh-based 4Moms, a company bringing electronics and robotic design to baby products, is an AlphaLab Gear mentor and supporter of Pittsburgh's capacity to dominate the physical products space. "Pittsburgh has always been a great place for building things," Thorne said. "It's going to be even better with a hardware accelerator pushing entrepreneurs to develop products faster and better. This will be the best place in America for hardware startups."
AlphaLab Gear Companies and Products
Product/Technology: A temperature monitor and alert system for food, medical and industrial companies that manufacture, transport or store temperature-sensitive products.
Product: Unmanned aerial systems using multiple cooperative robots for data gathering and remote sensing in hazardous environments. The technology, which was developed at the University of Pennsylvania's GRASP Lab, has applications ranging from safety and logistics in oil and gas to Improvised Explosive Device detection for the military.
Product/Technology: Combines hardware and software for consumer connected devices that integrate Bluetooth 4.0 (low-energy Bluetooth).
Product: "Smart" smartphone cases that protect more than just the life of your phone.
Product/Technology: Integrates 3D technology to offer retailers a complete factory-in-a-store experience, allowing their customers to create low-cost, customized products in-store in a matter minutes.
Product: Automated platform technology for advanced manufacturing of plastic composite parts
Product: A monthly subscription service that provides romantic gifts to personalize for your sweetheart. The easy-to-compose kits include a mix of handcrafted and machine-made components ranging from textiles and paper goods to wood, glass and other small objects with instructions to tailor into a unique gift.
Product/Technology: Applying robotics to the tool industry for do-it-yourselfers who want the advanced precision and design flexibility of industrial-grade tools.
AlphaLab Gear Leadership and Partners
Ilana Diamond, Managing Director
Ilana has a deep background in product development, manufacturing, supply chain management and retail distribution having served as President and CEO of Sima Products, an international manufacturer of consumer electronics accessories headquartered in Pittsburgh. Ilana led Sima Products for 15 years until the company's successful exit. She also served on the Executive Board of the Consumer Electronics Association.
Jim Jen, Executive Director, AlphaLab
Jim founded AlphaLab in 2008, one of the nation's first accelerators and a charter member of the Global Accelerator Network. He has guided over 80 startup companies in the Innovation Works and AlphaLab portfolios. Prior to IW, Jim spent years in Silicon Valley building and managing software businesses at venture-backed and Fortune 500 companies. Jim's expertise is in marketing, strategy, and organizational issues.
Rich Lunak, President and CEO, Innovation Works
As President & CEO of Innovation Works, one of the nation's most active early-stage investors according to Entrepreneur Magazine, Rich Lunak leads the organization's efforts to provide business expertise, seed capital and other resources to high-potential, technology startup companies in Pittsburgh. Prior to joining Innovation Works in 2005, Rich was a successful technology entrepreneur and corporate executive. He helped lead robotics company Automated Healthcare from a three-person start-up to a $65 million acquisition by McKesson Corporation, the nation's 16th largest company.
An outgrowth of Industrial Scientific, Startbot powers the robotics track of AlphaLab Gear with industry expertise and investment. Startbot is led by Josh McElhattan, a venture investor and former director of technology investment at Industrial Scientific. Previously, Josh was a user experience lead at JPMorganChase's active trading platform, now known at Power E*Trade.