Many hardware start-ups face challenges in the product testing phase, prototyping, prototype refinement and mass production launch, which not only cause financial problems but also affect the company's reputation and logistics. This is why the HardwareSTART programme was initiated by the Slovene Enterprise Fund and the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology. This is the third year that the programme has been implemented, which confirms just how important it is.
The HardwareSTART accelerator program, which is part of the Startup Plus Program's content support, involves experienced entrepreneurs and developers who have been on the journey to launching a hardware product on the market several times, so they know how things are done and can help startups in a very concrete way with their valuable experience.
Here are some useful tips from Vid Selič and Jaka Ogorevc from the successful Slovenian company DEWEsoft and the challenges faced by hardware entrepreneurs.
Companies are too late in getting market feedback
According to Vid Selič and Jaka Ogorevc, hardware development is difficult, but not impossible, especially if companies tackle it with a program such as HardwareSTART, which offers companies help in all steps - from idea to prototype development, getting the product on the market, industrialising production, optimising production and how to cut down costs.
It is very important to look at the bigger picture at the beginning and to identify the path that needs to be taken to get a company on the market. In the initial stages, entrepreneurs most often underestimate 3 things: the timeframes, which are often set too optimistically, the cost of development and the path from prototype to mass production. Vid says:
"It's quite a challenge to turn an idea into a product and then turn it into profit. The biggest challenge is to identify the market needs and the market gap."
User testing: do it as soon as possible
Podjetja pogosto ne vejo, kaj je največja bolečina njihovih uporabnikov, ne znajo nasloviti pravih funkcionalnosti produkta za reševanje teh problemov, predolgo razvijajo produkt in se prepozno lotijo pridobivanja povratnih informacij s trga.
Companies often don't know what their customers' biggest pain points are, they don't know how to address the right product functionalities to solve these problems, they take too long to develop the product and they are too late to get market feedback. That's why Vid advises:
"Define the MVP as leanly as possible, get to the first prototype as soon as possible, get to the first customers as soon as possible. That's worth its weight in gold. Focus first on the user and then on everything else that follows."
Listen to what Vid has to say about why it's important for a company to successfully define the problem with users, why quick feedback from the market is key and why a product doesn't have to be 100% ready to be presented to the first test customers.
Logistics costs have been the death of many companies
It is very important that a company manages all its costs very well, from production to logistics, and that it has a well-developed shipping strategy. All this should also be taken into account when setting the price of the product. The most often overlooked cost is the cost of logistics. It happens that companies run a successful Kickstarter campaign but fail because the shipping costs are sky high.
Today, companies face another major challenge, namely the rising cost of certain components and their deliverability. To a certain extent, this challenge is also solved by the hardware experts at DEWEsoft and Katapult, who, thanks to their flexibility, can develop certain components themselves and help companies.
Solve the main problem - overengineering is unnecessary
Watch the video in which Jaka gives advice on what to do to reduce the risk of a hardware company and his experience with the Enolyse hardware product for winemakers.
Connect and get better prices
Connect with larger companies that have established logistics channels, sourcing chains, larger sales networks and achieve higher volumes and consequently better prices for materials, components, shipping, etc. For this purpose, companies also have the possibility of joining the Katapult Accelerator. It is also not necessary for a company to learn from its mistakes. It is important to connect with people who have already gone down the path you are now on.
How has HardwareSTART helped startups?
Many startups have made significant steps forward from conception to market launch with the help of HardwareSTART, including Elevon X, Agitron, Amonito.
Quickly from problem to solution
- Elevon X has participated in HardwareSTART two years in a row. Watch in the video and find out:
what the company has gained by participating in the program,
how they got from problem to solution quickly,
how the program saved them at least half a year of time,
what advice they give to program participants.
Detecting and resolving faults in the early stages
What do Andraž and Marko from Amonito, a startup developing the lightest guitar amplifier, say about the programme, which received help through Katapult to design the product, build and validate the first prototype:
"The key for any startup working on hardware development is to identify and solve problems at early stages. At the HardwareSTART accelerator, we received quality advice, mentoring and training, without which it would have undoubtedly taken more time and money to get our project off the ground. We also received help in some areas of development that our team does not have much experience in, and we were able to successfully build our first prototype."
The company will also launch a Kickstarter campaign soon, which you can take a look at here.
HardwareSTART conference and meetup are just around the corner
There are two important events coming up in November that you don't want to miss.
The first informal meetup - a meetup of the stakeholders of the hardware industry in Slovenia, which will take place on Nov 4, 2021 online. We will be joined by the talented Peter Bruner from startup Ringo, focused on the development of smart locks. The interview with Peter will be followed by questions from the participants and some time for discussion and networking. Attendance is free of charge.
The international HardwareSTART conference with the biggest hardware experts, with a combined revenue of over €100 million. They will share their knowledge and experience. Join live at Katapult or virtually. Dr. Jure Knez from Dewesoft, Michael Gornik from Katapult, Jaka Klemenčič from EKWB and many others will be at the conference on Nov 12, 2021. If you are interested in the secret of success in stories like Dewesoft and EKWB, then this conference is not to be missed. Attendance is free.
The HardwareSTART program offers valuable help
HardwareSTART is an accelerator program designed to support Slovenian hardware startups, created by a consortium of partners Katapult, DEWESoft and Zavod mladi podjetnik. It is part of the Startup Plus Program of the Slovene Enterprise Fund.
The program consists of:
- 300 mentoring hours (individual advice to engineers and help with testing and implementation of hardware products)
- 2 meetups - informal meetings of the stakeholders of the hardware industry in Slovenia,
- an international conference in the field of hardware in Slovenia, and
- one-day educational program - one four-hour workshop on Hardware Business Development, led by Dr. Jure Knez from Dewesoft.
The conference and meetups are open to all hardware startups, while the accelerator program with mentoring is aimed at recipients of financial incentives, seed capital and co-investment from the Slovene Enterprise Fund from P2, SK75, SK200 and SI-SK tenders.
What are the main benefits for participants of the program?
Borut Borštnik, HardwareSTART Programme Manager, pointed out:
"Startups often stop somewhere because they are solving a problem for the first time and have no practical experience. Here, the program allows them to be advised by Dewesoft engineers on matters that they have encountered in the past. In this way, not only a lot of money is saved, but also time."
Great Startup Plus programs
The Slovene Enterprise Fund also organizes many other top entrepreneurial programs for portfolio companies, such as the Push2start Acceleration Program, Startup Clinic, SK GROWTH CAMP, NextRound, GROWdigital, KorpoStart, INTL, Nextround, School for Investors, CEED Founders Talk and ScaleUPgrade. The content programs effectively complement the financial products P2, SK75 and SI-SK, which provide Slovenian start-up companies with EUR 54,000 to EUR 600,000 in start-up funds.
Content support for recipients of P2, SK75 or SI-SK financial products under the "de minimis" scheme is co-financed from the Slovene Enterprise Fund and the European Union from the European Regional Development Fund. This is implemented on the basis of the Content Support for Funds Recipients (SMEs) Programme in the 2018-2023 period, under the Operational Programme for the Implementation of the European Cohesion Policy 2014-2020.