Editor’s Note: Springboard is now TechStars London
The Springboard accelerator based in the UK will choose only the top 10 applicants out of hundreds of submissions this month, through a series of interviews with investors who are experienced entrepreneurs focusing heavily on the founders and the team dynamics. “[It is] still too early to make definitions around hardware,” says Springboard Founder Jon Bradford. “Our primary focus is finding smart, entrepreneurial teams with a never say die attitude.”
Criteria like “never say die” seems appropriate considering the top 10 startups will undergo a 90-day program before presenting to VCs – and even with a perfect term sheet for their prototypes – are likely to be turned away.
“There is a reason why hardware is called hard … it’s hard,” Bradford says.
He’s quoting Tony Fadell, the past Apple VP who created the first 18 generations of the iPod and first three generations of the iPhone before becoming the Founder of Nest. If anyone knows how to describe the challenges behind hardware, it’s Fadell.
Bradford goes on to recite the three core competencies required for success. “Firstly hardware, secondly software and finally design.”
It is the last concept – design – that Bradford believes team “massively underestimated.” The reason for this underestimation? The real value in device is its ability to collect data whilst avoiding an observational bias – good design makes the hardware disappear into the background or become intrinsically part of the natural process.
To Bradford, Apple is the perfect example of a company which for ten years has found the precise combination of hardware, software and design. “The ability to manufacture at a low cost is only part of the equation. The real question is whether businesses in the USA have the capacity to “out innovate” its competitors elsewhere in the world – both in product, services and design.”
But today’s hardware economy is very different from ten years ago. Bradford believes that 2013 for hardware is comparable to the web ecosystem of 2005/2006 when Y Combinator and Techstars formed and Amazon Web Services launched their first cloud service – the S3 product. He credits this turning point to crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
“[Eric] Ries suggests that a startup is a grand experiment to answer the questions ‘Should this product be built?’ and ‘Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?”
Crowdfunding platforms provides hardware startups the ability to test demand for a product – and also the price points for their products. Essentially, crowdfunding has brought the lean startup method to hardware.”
The ten startups being chosen right now by Springboard will be some of the first hardware startups to graduate from a hardware-specific accelerator. This, in and of itself, is a grand experiment for Bradford and team – especially considering most venture capitalists will shy away from anything hardware related. But come June 2013, when this class will demo their products for the first time, if there are no traditional takers, Bradford has the perfect backup plan for his “never say die” graduates…Kickstarter.