Conventional wisdom dictates that hardware start-ups have trouble attracting venture capital. And it's true. After all, software companies historically need far less capital to launch--especially when founders are willing to enjoy the ramen noodle diet.
But, there's a growing shift in the logos of Silicon Valley, and more venture capitalists are being driven towards small hardware companies. This hardware movement has adopted many names (everything from "Hardware 2.0," to an all-out "hardware renaissance,") but the reason behind it is fairly straightforward: While it may not be easier to ship a hardware product, it's definitely becoming cheaper. There's the rise of 3-D printing. There's also the growth of pre-sale crowdfunding on sites such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter (despite its pitfalls). Launching a hardware company is more accessible to entrepreneurs now than ever before.
Which is all a somewhat long-winded way of saying: Be prepared to talk about hardware at this year's South By Southwest.
Inc.com has profiled products like Leap Motion's hand-gesturing device and Memoto's life-logging camera, but if you're looking for more hardware inspiration--and a little educational primer--we've compiled your go-to starter hardware guide to SXSW.
Saturday, March 9, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Omni Downtown Lone Star: 700 San Jacinto Boulevard
Jesse Harrington Au, a "maker advocate" at San Francisco-based Autodesk will present alongside Mark Hatch, CEO of TechShop, a membership-based prototyping and fabrication studio based in Palo Alto, California. They will discuss the future landscape of the hardware start-up market. From the session's page: "There's now greater potential to fuel entrepreneurs inventing new devices, especially when considered with the growing power to build even the most complicated prototypes in an easy, affordable way."
Sunday, March 10, 11:00 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.
Hilton Austin Downtown: Room 616AB, 500 East 4th Street
Thiel Fellow and 19-year-old Harvard drop-out Connor Zwick will explain the "democratization of hardware over the next decade" that led him to leave school and found Milkshake Labs, which is building a game controller for smartphones.
Sunday, March 10, 3:30p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Empire: 606 East 7th Street
The name says it all. If you're looking to brainstorm or just network with other entrepreneurs and hardware makers, this is your spot.
Monday, March 11, 12:30p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Four Seasons: San Jacinto Ballroom, 98 San Jacinto Boulevard
If you're looking to network with a panel of makers, this is your must-see event. Panelists--including David Lang, co-founder of OpenROV, a DIY telerobotics community project centered around underwater exploration adventure, and Nick Pinkston, the founder of Plethora, a rapid prototyping service, will discuss taking the initial idea of a hardware company to fundraising to bringing the product to market.
Sunday, March 10, 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Omni Downtown Capital Ballroom: 700 San Jacinto Boulevard
Mike Sinese, a senior editor at Wired, will interview Peter Weijmarshausen, the CEO and co-founder of Shapeways, the New York-based 3-D printing marketplace and community. The two "will discuss the limitations of mass manufacturing and explain why digital fabrication enables individuals to find and make products that truly meet their unique needs." In other words, this session could provide great inspiration to finally begin making that DIY project you've always dreamed of.