MayJune 2015 SXSWorld


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4 0 S X S W o r l d | M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 5 | S X S W. C O M he impulse to make things is as old as humanity, and for modern "makers," an object that you can see and hold seems to carry more gravitas than a purely abstract idea. Echoing the drive and innovation of earlier inventors like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, members of the maker movement are creating consumer devices. These days, maker meetups, hard- ware startups and self-proclaimed 3-D geeks with a penchant for mechanics and craft are all the rage. "I prefer to call it a revolution," says Mark Hatch, CEO and co- founder of TechShop, a place for makers to explore ideas, use specific tools, take classes and be part of a community that foments collab- oration and exchange between creators. TechShop began in Menlo Park in the mid-2000s and now has 7,000 members in eight loca- tions around the U.S., with two more sites on the way, and six in development in Europe. When Hatch learned the details about TechShop from founder Jim Newton, he was invited to speak to three dif- ferent startups to ask why they were there: "Each person told me, to a person, that if TechShop didn't exist, 'I wouldn't be able to do this, and I've saved 98 percent of startup costs by being here'... I thought, 'This changes everything!' "If you can do that, not by floating a company on a credit card but out of just cash flow; if you can make that available to the creative class, then the world has fundamentally changed. I was thinking of Bruce Sterling's quote, 'The future's already here; it's just not evenly distributed.' " TechShop has been able to help launch scores of devices, including Jane Chen's Embrace blanket, which is saving the lives of thousands of preemies who live in remote areas and whose window of survival is limited. Another item to come out of TechShops is a widely used infrared pet warming device for post-surgery recovery in veteri- narian clinics. Clustered Systems was also developed at TechShop; the creators came up with a solution for reducing the energy needs in large data centers, such as those run by Sun MicroSystems, Oracle and Apple. "This was basically two guys (Phillip Hughes and Robert Lip) working away for two years, with a total of $20,000," Hatch says. "They've developed the world's greenest data cooling system ... According to L. Livermore Labs, the global spend on cooling data center is $250 billion annually. So, they reset the bar, and look at the size of the carbon footprint. They reduced it by 10 percent!" These sorts of hardware startups have ignited a bit of a feeding frenzy, similar to the software startup-VC glom that occurred during the first decade of this century. This was exemplified by Sam Altman, blogger and president of Y Combinator, who told the Wall Street Journal recently, "I always tell my partners that our job is to fund all the companies we can get that can be worth $10 billion or more." The interest of investors in hardware is even entering pop culture with this fall's new Syfy channel docu-series, Bazillion Dollar Club. The show will feature tech financier Dave McClure and hardware innovator Brady Forrest guiding software and hardware startups, as they vie to create breakthrough products. However, though incredible wealth now seems possible for makers, Bartley Gillan, founder of Austin's Hardware Startup Meetup, sees the built-in conflict for cre- ators faced with the often competing demands of com- merce and innovation. "Absolutely, I've struggled with that friction, the conflict between both providing for yourself and also being fully creative and enjoying the work you're doing," he explains. "I think that kind of goes with any industry, but in some ways, this field is different. My self identity is both as a maker and as entrepreneur, and there are things that I just wanted to (make) exist and wanted the challenge just to see if I can make the thing, with no goal toward making money. Now there's this whole other world of making in the past five years, where you can actually start making money around it." Yet, one of the aspects of the making movement that attracts both consumers and creators (and apparently investors, too) is the notion that somehow, tangible objects have obvious craft, and therefore more value and integrity. "If you look in the hardware world -- and I use that term loosely to describe anything you're building and that's physical that you sell to a customer, you're not just selling software or putting up a website and hoping people will use it, and that eventually Google buys you," Gillan says. "Having a business model with hardware is easier at the end of the day, because you can actually sell physical items. And Americans in general are more comfortable with buying an actual thing. We still have this mindset that if you can find it on the Internet, it should be free. But all the books I read, I buy the dead tree version. I still subscribe to magazines. At least in my brain, if it's physical, it has more value." B r a dy F o rres t a n d D a ve M c Cl u re w il l b e Key n ote S p e a ke r s a t SX S W V 2V o n Tu es d ay , J uly 2 1 . M a rk H a tch w il l b e p a r t of t h e 20/ 20 V i s io n s es s io n: " Th e Ri s e of t h e M a ke r M il l io n a i res ." S e e s x s w v2 m fo r m o re d e ta il s . Will Hardware Startups Spur the Next Tech Boom? by Shermakaye baSS T A M Y E L L I N G E R T in ke re r s a t wo rk d urin g SX S W Cre a te

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