Lock a few startups in a room with some hardware for 90 days and they might come out with something big.
That was the hope with the inaugural class of the R/GA Connected Devices Accelerator, which held a demo day on Tuesday in New York.
This is all part of the growing Internet of Things trend that meshes distributed hardware with data and software. Bolt, the accelerator in Boston, has also been cultivating startups that build physical stuff backed by computing power.
After working with mentors over the past few months to hone their ideas, the teams from the R/GA Accelerator showed off the fruits (and vegetables in the case of Grove) of their labor. The slideshow above offers glimpses of the co-founders and devices they demoed. The startups created gadgets with vastly different functions, along themes such as collecting data to improve health, offering navigation tips to bike riders, and managing energy in buildings.
The teams came from the New York area as well as Boston, Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Puerto Rico. Of the ten originally picked for the accelerator, nine teams presented at Tuesday’s demo day.
Stephen Plumlee, R/GA’s chief operating officer, chatted with me after the demos. He said the organizers are considering different themes in connected devices for the next class. And whereas the inaugural class was timed to debut at this year’s SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, TX, he said the next class might be geared towards the annual International CES tradeshow in Las Vegas.
Finding the right experts to help nurture startups with highly diverse ideas might seem daunting, but Plumlee said the partnership between the organizers put them in touch with the right folks. “Techstars had mentors who ran all kinds of companies,” he said. “And [R/GA] had clients that also ranged across those verticals.”
Calvin Chu, who was named managing director of the accelerator last November, said his team sought business mentors who had made real world products and came out ahead. “We look for entrepreneurs that have built hardware companies that have IPO’d, gone big, or have been bought out,” he said. In other words, “entrepreneurs that have done it before.”
To add some expertise from the retail world, Chu said the accelerator tapped R/GA’s clients including L’Oréal, Equinox, and Coca-Cola.
Another bit of help came from Brooklyn’s MakerBot Industries, now owned by Stratasys. Plumlee said made 3D printers available to the teams for form factor experiments and prototyping. “MakerBot, along with Stratasys, were critical,” Plumee said. “The companies were using [the 3D printers] every day.”