A little over seven years ago, Marc Andreessen, the venture capitalist famously said that software was eating the world. What he meant by that was the fact that software seemed to be doing the jobs that “stuff” used to do in the past. Not only was software getting rid of typewriters and telephone exchange clerks, but it was also taking on other things that had once been thought of as firmly in the physical world. Who uses a slide rule anymore?
But not even Andreessen foresaw just how much digital technology would impact the world of machines and hardware. He imagined that the digital revolution would stop once all manufacturers were using CAD design programs. But that’s not what happened. Instead, we’ve seen the rise of the maker movement and the return to the cottage industries of our ancient industrial past, but with a new digital overlay.
The Change Is Being Driven By Tech Companies
Tech companies are leading the charge. No longer are they content to remain confined to the cloistered halls of software. They want to develop products for the real world that traditional manufacturing hasn’t yet done. Take Pebble, for instance. The company started as a Kickstarter dream back in 2012, but since then it’s managed to manufacture and sell more than a million smart watches that people can connect to their smartphones.
Another company called Nebia decided that it would use digital technology and smart software to develop a water-efficient showerhead for water-starved regions, like California. Then there are a whole bunch of other companies that are experimenting in the internet of things space by making all sorts of connected appliances.
It’s Easier To Set Up In Manufacturing
Historically, if you wanted to start up a manufacturing company, you had to spend a lot of money on capital. If you wanted to set up a food business, you had to buy a conveyor, hopper, industrial over and membrane filter press, for instance. According to the Harvard Business Review, conditions for entrepreneurs are easier. Mark Hatch, the founder of Tech Shop says that companies don’t need to buy their own custom-built factories to get their products off the ground anymore. Instead, they can simply rent space from larger businesses and sometimes use their tools for free.
Thus, the risks involved in manufacturing entrepreneurship are falling. Founders have access to capital, tools and support networks which simply didn’t exist five or ten years ago.
Take Kickstarter, for instance. Lucky businesses that have the ability to inspire their customer base can crowdsource the capital they need to set up their operations. This was something that simply wasn’t possible in the past, and it made raising funds for a new idea tough.
Another major bonus for the industry has been the number of open source products and technologies. Companies no longer have to pay out thousands of dollars for proprietary software if they don’t want to. Instead, they can choose from among the multitude of free, community-generated alternatives. And finally, cities like Miami and Austin in Texas have well-developed support networks, comprising incubators and “accelerators.”
Could you join the hardware renaissance?