Brew beer better. Clean hotel rooms better. Monitor the health of your horse better. These were a few of the pitches at the Southern Tier Hardware Accelerator’s first Demo Day, Aug. 13.
Rev: Ithaca Startup Works, downtown Ithaca’s business incubator, hosted the event, which drew more than 150 attendees and featured five-minute pitches from startups working on physical product business concepts. The event also put their works-in-progress on display. The evening included a visit from U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-23rd, who congratulated the entrepreneurs and expressed his support of both the Hardware Accelerator and Rev.
“Having the resources in order to put these creative and innovative ideas into motion is critical,” Reed said. He also praised the environment of interaction and openness that Rev promotes, saying, “That expertise and entrepreneurial spirit in one room just makes perfect sense.”
Tom Schryver, executive director of the Center for Regional Economic Development at Cornell, thanked Reed for his support in helping secure funding for programs like the Hardware Entrepreneurship Ecosystem, which supports the incubation of Southern Tier companies making physical products. That program recently received a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s “i6 Challenge.”
“[Reed] has been a big proponent for manufacturing, particularly in the Southern Tier,” Schryver said.
The Southern Tier Hardware Accelerator, a program of the Southern Tier Startup Alliance, started with a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration last year. The SBA Growth Accelerator Prize was open to incubators and accelerators of all types from around the country, and the Southern Tier Hardware Accelerator was one of 50 awardees out of about 800 applications, and the only awardee in upstate New York.
Rev provides the space for the accelerator, which boasts a “napkin to reality” approach to providing startups with mentorship and expertise to spur their growth. That growth is focused around the rapid development of hardware prototypes.
Many of the companies represented at Demo Day have Cornell connections. Ohmbrewer, whose CEO is John Hohm, M.Eng. ’15, makes an automated, precise brewery control system for home brewers and small craft breweries.
During his presentation, Hohm credited the Hardware Accelerator with helping the company develop working prototypes of several elements of their product, including the software integration that’s key to the whole operation.
“When we came here, we had our master’s project idea and a few initial hardware specs,” Hohm said. “I knew what I wanted to do, and that was about it.”
Caitlin Parrucci ’15, a master’s student in mechanical engineering, pitched a product that monitors equine health by tracking water intake and other factors. The idea for her company, Equine Design, came during a Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management class she took with David BenDaniel, professor of management. The guidance and resources she received from accelerator mentors, including director Ken Rother, were critical to getting her to this point, she said.
“They’ve given me a lot of instruction along the way,” Parrucci said. “I don’t think I could have done this on my own.”
The other presenters:
Make Better Stuff, a line of home and office furnishings inspired from biological phenomena; Maidbot, the world’s first housekeeping robot for hotels; Kettlebug, a fitness tracker that counts repetitions and checks form; Geri Safe, an automated pill dispenser for precise timing and dosing of medications; Wicked Device, a pallet tracker powered through kinetics; hovvaX, a hover drone re-envisioned for humanitarian use; and Stage One, a portable, all-in-one stage and light show for the mobile performer.