Walk through the door of Bolt’s downtown Boston office, and at first glance it looks like any other startup hub these days.
Small teams from several companies are seated at desks in the middle of an open room, typing away on their laptops or huddled in quiet discussion. Light floods in from tall windows and reflects off the shiny wooden floor. A Ping-Pong table sits in one corner.
But it quickly becomes clear that Bolt is unlike most startup organizations. (See our slideshow above, detailing the facilities and some companies in residence.)
The venture fund invests in hardware startups and offers them office space in Boston and San Francisco, along with access to in-house engineers and designers. Go downstairs in the 9,000-square-foot Boston location, and there’s about $2 million worth of equipment used to design and manufacture physical products: tools like laser cutters, milling machines, power drills, and more.
It’s no surprise, then, that Bolt eschews traditional office décor. The trophies featured on a sort of wall of fame are prototypes from portfolio companies. Instead of paintings or posters, a wall in one of the conference rooms features a collection of devices (GoPro camera, Xbox controller, MacBook laptop) that have been disassembled and artfully hung up in pieces.
Another clue that this place lets engineers and tech buffs geek out to the max: Some tenants took apart a robot from Kiva Systems (now Amazon Robotics). The dressed-down machine sits beneath the Bolt wall of fame.
“We just wanted to see what it looks like” on the inside, explains Elizabeth Dobrska, Bolt’s director of marketing. And don’t let her title fool you—Dobrska enjoys getting her hands dirty in the shop, too. She says on some weekends she uses the equipment to work on personal craft projects.
In just two years, Bolt has quickly forged an international reputation for helping hardware startups power up. It launched in Boston with a $4 million fund led by design engineer Ben Einstein, former Atlas Venture partner Axel Bichara, and Dragon Innovation CEO Scott Miller, who was an early iRobot executive.
Bolt raised a $32 million second fund earlier this year and added a location in San Francisco, in a fabrication facility owned by Autodesk, one of its backers. Einstein is now based in San Francisco and splits his time between Bolt’s two locations.
Bolt has invested in 26 companies, Dobrska says. None of them have been acquired or gone public, but it’s still early for those bets—especially considering the sometimes difficult and lengthy path to market for hardware startups.
Not all of Bolt’s portfolio companies set up shop in its offices, Dobrska says. The ones that do tend to be younger and smaller companies that are trying to get their first product in the hands of customers. Working in close proximity to Bolt’s engineers “is really helpful” for them, she says.
“We’re really hands-on with our companies,” Dobrska says. Another example: Each year, Bolt organizes a trip to China for some of its companies to meet with potential manufacturing partners.
The best part of Dobrska’s job, she says, is watching the companies progress from an idea to a prototype to a product on shelves. “To see them assembling this in our shop downstairs, and now ship it out to the world—that’s been exciting to see,” she says.