The first fully immersive hardware focused accelerator to run in New Zealand wrapped up on 19 November with seven teams pitching up a storm. By Jesse Keith
Hardware is hard-work and ‘Lightning Lab – Manufacturing’ was certainly no exception. The seven participating teams bravely gave up the security of their day jobs and jumped head first into a 12 week, fully immersive, accelerator programme. They emerged after an accelerated few months of blood, sweat, and no doubt some tears, having had a whole lot of laughs and heaps of idea sharing to serve up their A-games – pitching their business ideas to an impressed audience. Programme director Shawn O’Keefe and his Lightning Lab team must have been very proud.
It was impossible to pick a standout from the demo day. Every team got the audience to sit up and take notice. The day was also a great showcase for the fact that the teams involved in Lightning Lab – Manufacturing have been tackling a unique mix of industries, markets and technologies: from motion capture (Kine6) to notebooks produced from re-purposed paper (the Misprint Co.), rifle stocks for target-shooting (Precision Platforms) to timber surfboards (Organic Dynamic). There truly was something for everyone.
Callaghan Innovation has been a proud sponsor for this pilot programme along with Creative HQ, Grow Wellington and Hutt Council. The real point of difference for this accelerator was that it had been designed to support manufactured product rather than pure digital solutions. As the first fully immersive hardware focused accelerator to run in New Zealand it didn’t come without its pain-points, but it sure did prove an appetite for the “physical” and not just the “digital”. Physical product development is inherently time consuming, expensive and more often than not doesn’t generate a business profit until much later on. But as Kiwi’s we seem to pretty damn good at it and we enjoy rolling up our sleeves so as to get down and dirty with the design, prototyping and testing.
The programme was open for attendance by teams from throughout NZ, but it was Wellington that proved to be a rich source of ‘commercialisable’ product solutions. Careers in the New Zealand music industry inspired the development of a unique guitar effects pedal by the team at Dogmatek. Similarly, a love for bee-keeping and a booming New Zealand Manuka honey economy was the catalyst for Ebee’s innovative bee-hive frame design. While Bpod was a product solution conceived on a train by a dad and his crying baby in need of a heated bottle of formula.
As the National Technology Network Manager – Design and Manufacturing at Callaghan Innovation it has been fantastic to be able to draw on our internal science and technology staff for prototyping solutions, design engineering, as well as calling upon our domain and technology experts when required. The skills of the Callaghan Innovation R&D enablers blended well with Lightning Lab/Creative HQ’s ability to engage business mentors with expertise in the complexities of star-ups, IP, marketing, investment, design thinking, lean, agile methodology and manufacturing expertise.
This combined network proved to be highly valuable to the acceleration of the Lightning Lab Manufacturing teams’ ideas into better resolved end-user solutions. It was certainly an eyes wide open learning experience for all the teams and one that will no doubt support them for a life of entrepreneurial activity.
The teams that came into the accelerator also brought with them some amazing domain knowledge about the problem they wanted to solve or the market opportunities they want to exploit. I think this made it a little easier for them to commit to the long development days as they themselves want to be users of their own solutions.
From my experience as a professional industrial designer the process of physical product design and development is becoming leaner, more agile, learning first and customer centric. (Yes I just used all those “buzz” words in the same sentence!) This evolution is supported by our ever increasing access to smarter, faster and cheaper technology: More user friendly 3D CAD for design and engineering and 3D printers for rapid prototyping and advanced manufacturing techniques. Industry also seems to be embracing the advantages of incorporating methodologies and processes like lean start-up, agile, learning first or design thinking into their R&D process allowing for a structured approach to innovation.
So where to from here? Firstly all the teams are now on the hunt for investment – both financially, and also in terms of continued support and industry engagement through mentorship and business advisors. For Callaghan Innovation this was also a positive learning experience. How does New Zealand as a whole continue to create and foster a world-class eco-system for entrepreneurial activity in high value manufacturing? How do we best support the R&D and business success of both physical and digital solutions?
The only real conclusion I can draw so quickly after the process is that I saw seven interesting product ideas walk into Lightning Lab – Manufacturing and 12 weeks later I saw seven innovation businesses walk out the door … Brilliant!
(Photographs courtesy of Lightning Lab)