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Oct 20, 2016

Racing from Concept to Production Part

Highway1 Helps Startups Get to Market Better, Faster, Stronger with a Tormach Mill

Silicon Valley has become synonymous with two terms: venture capital and startups. That’s why the area is teeming with entrepreneurs looking to make their break into the market. Highway1 is a company that recognizes everything happening in the area, and was created as a “hardware accelerator.”
“Twice a year, we take in ten teams and in exchange for equity in their companies we give them up to $100,000 as well as engineering support, business development support, curriculum, mentorship, and access to a full prototyping shop,” explains Rafi Ajl, Senior Designer at Highway1.
One of the most challenging parts about being a startup isn’t getting ideas for amazing things to create, but rather, actually creating early versions (prototypes) of those concepts. Companies small and large can spend thousands, if not millions, of dollars on R&D and prototyping, so Highway1 looks to help up-and-coming companies not only get started making actual products but also helps with the funding.
Ajl explains, “You can do a whiteboard sketch in seven seconds, a foam-core cutout in seven minutes, you can 3D print or CNC mill something in seven hours, but to really develop a prototype on a manufacturing scale, it can take seven months. So, when would you like to make mistakes? In seven minutes or in seven months?”
Highway1’s model gives the startups they house a few months to refine their product for presentation. “We like to say we can do a year’s worth of hardware development in four months,” he says. The company has worked with 67 startups through six different ‘Cohort Cycles.’
Startups typically arrive at Highway1 with rough prototypes, and they hit the ground running. At the end of the 4-month Cohort Cycle, the different startups present their progress and product at Demo Day to a room full of investors and media.
The company uses their Tormach mill to help startups get their products as close to production-quality as possible before they look into full-on manufacturing. “We purchased the Tormach PCNC 1100 because it was the right size for the right price and the right quality for our space,” Ajl explains. “It is the only machine in the marketplace that hits all of those numbers for a space like ours where we really want to use it as a development and teaching tool, and not necessarily just cranking out parts. We’re not a job shop – we teach people what it’s like to either engage in the machining process or what comes out of the machining process.”
He continues, “We’re familiar with other names in the industry that are more complicated machines that are a lot more expensive, we’re also familiar with some of the benchtop machines that are really crappy, and Tormach hits a unique price point and quality level where you get a super high quality machine for a very affordable price, and that offers a ton of support. There’s also a deep community of Tormach users that are available as a resource.”
“Something that is important to us is being able to troubleshoot quickly and learn ways of doing things more quickly,” Ajl says. A heavy concentration on time-to-market is vital for startups to succeed. That’s why the Tormach has been so valuable, it allows the startups to get real, working prototypes that are virtually identical to production parts as quickly as possible.
“We’ve also used the Tormach during our demo day,” where the cohorts present their concepts to potential investors. “We have had the need, at the last minute, to make some really nice parts with a relatively quick turnaround time. In that sense, we’ve used the machine less as a prototyping tool, and more as a finished part tool for our startups. It’s great that our shop can enable everything from someone using foam-core and hot glue to coming out with a part that could come off a manufacturing line.”
If you have a product concept and you want to throw your hat in with the cohorts at Highway1, you can apply here: http://highway1.io/