lllai Gescheit, partner at Siemens Energy Ventures, wrote this guest article.
In my daily conversations with startup founders, I speak with founders building software ventures, such as cyber and carbon data companies, and with founders building hardware and heavy equipment businesses. Those hardware companies are often in the Long Duration Energy Storage space or involved in the hydrogen economy. My main question to all those founders is, "how can I help you accelerate and go faster, enabling you to scale and make an impact quicker." After all, we don't have much time to solve climate change, so the transition speed is critical.
In those conversations, I listen to many hardware entrepreneurs who say that "many investors and customers don't understand us and expect the rapid growth of a software company." They claim, "we are not building a software platform, and people expect us to move fast, but we can't." These days, with supply chain challenges and the economic downturn, it has become even harder for hardware startups to move faster. Some of those challenges come both in the early stage of the hypothesis validation and prototype experimentation and also definitely in the scaling stage after those businesses find their product market fit.
Even beyond climate and energy, building a successful hardware startup is generally hard. Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator wrote in one of his essays that "investors have a deep-seated bias against hardware." However, data shows there's still interest in consumer hardware startups in areas such as healthcare and retail on the customer demand and investor sides.
Still, there are all the expected startup struggles, such as finding that golden product-market fit, showing traction to investors, and building the right team. Making things even more challenging is the "hardware" aspect of those startups. Creating and iterating physical products on a limited budget and short timelines adds a whole new level of complexity and pressure. We must keep innovating to help reduce those challenges, and "crowdfunding platforms" are a great example of how we can help to accelerate investments in hardware businesses.
But accelerating capital into hardware is not enough. Making industrial-grade 3D printing as accessible as possible is the key. MakerVerse is an on-demand manufacturing platform that makes this possible for both hardware startups and big corporations. It helps innovators and founders by making a range of technologies and materials accessible, so companies can solve the biggest challenges in manufacturing with 3D printing. These days the supply chain is creating unpredictable timelines for part manufacturing, meaning MakerVerse has an even bigger role in accelerating innovation and helping businesses keep doing business as usual.
Here are three ways how 3D printing could solve some of the biggest challenges of hardware startups – and I'm happy to partner with MakerVerse's founding team to enable other hardware startups in the ecosystem to accelerate their innovation.
Avoiding High Capital Investments with Asset-Light Manufacturing
Even a well-funded startup needs to be aware of costs - especially in the current financial climate - and operate lean and frugally. In building a hardware business, those costs can spiral out of control when trying to iterate on the product or ramp up production. In software products, iterating quickly might mean changing a few lines of code and pushing it into production. However, for hardware startups, a slight change in design could lead to a change in the assembly and a need for different parts to test a new product version.
On the MakerVerse platform, companies can build without any upfront costs and reduce startup risk. 3D printing makes it possible to create complex prototypes out of metals or polymers for rapid prototyping. Once tested, new designs can be created and validated without upfront costs.
When designs are finalized, serial production can begin. This entire process happens without investing in equipment, physical space, or tooling. For companies seeking to limit expensive capital expenditures, 3D printing is a great technology to consider.
Moving Faster than the Competition
For startups, speed is everything. Agile companies succeed when they quickly respond to customers' needs and feedback and adapt to change. Companies fail when they are too slow to react and iterate. Using 3D printing technologies makes it easy for hardware companies to gain a competitive advantage.
Without the need for tooling, 3D printing offers faster lead times than traditional manufacturing methods. MakerVerse offers instant quotes using Artificial Intelligence, eliminating the need for slow and manual quotes. In addition to instant quotes, reliable supply chains offer lead times as short as six business days. I see many founders in the current market struggle with supply chain issues, and one of MakerVerse's roles is to give hardware startups a way to deal with the current situation of traditional part manufacturing and supply chain processes.
Overcoming Limitations with Design Freedom
There are a lot of rules when it comes to manufacturing and mechanical part design. One of the oldest ones is that the more complex the part is, the more expensive it will be, especially if you are talking large numbers of parts per assembly - ith additive manufacturing, that's not the case at all. This technology can create highly complex geometries with no additional cost versus simple parts. Furthermore, some of these designs would not be possible to make with traditional manufacturing. Today's technologies are pushing the limits also for high-volume production of 3D printing parts.
This means startups can be truly innovative and push those boundaries further. While specific design rules need to be followed, so much more is possible with 3D printing. The MakerVerse team helps startup founders realize their full potential by offering expert advice on the best methods to use 3D printing successfully at the early stage and as they move to high-volume production.
I learned the hard way that for product development, you have to try and experiment with new methods to accelerate the business. We are working with the MakerVerse team to help startups experiment faster. You can do it by going to the MakerVerse platform, uploading a part, and getting an instant quote to see how much it will cost and the lead time.