Make in LA has an ambitious goal: enabling hardware-focused entrepreneurs to develop fundable prototypes in just four months. In its first year, the accelerator received nearly 100 applicants, all vying for a spot in the maker space, plus $150,000 distributed in two rounds of funding. In January, the program graduates its inaugural class of four teams, whose creations include a biosignal- tracking wristband; an impact-monitorinwg mouthguard that can help athletes avoid aggravating head injuries; a tracking device for skateboards; and a robotic toy that teaches kids as young as 4 to code. Applications are being accepted for 2016.
We sat down with co-founder and general manager Noramay Cadena to learn how inventors can get their big break with Make in LA.
Why is Los Angeles a natural home for a hardware hub?
We saw a gap in the opportunity for hardware entrepreneurs. But we join a strong entrepreneur ecosystem of startups and emerging venture capital in the so-called Silicon Beach community.
Los Angeles has a blossoming maker movement, and our mayor is very keen on supporting and building up the city as the manufacturing powerhouse it has always been. L.A. has a long history in aviation and automotive manufacturing, and the medical sector is heavily concentrated here. We have the Port of Los Angeles, and we have major technical universities including the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, Los Angeles.
What are some of the accelerator’s unique offerings?
One big draw is our partnership with electronics manufacturer NEO Tech. They’ve been in business for 40 years, with operations in the U.S., Mexico and China. The idea that an entrepreneur can get help developing and prototyping and then fully manufacture a product locally is hugely appealing.
Our business model is very similar to other accelerators, and we have a long list of mentors and tangible resources. But a major differentiator is that a third of our curriculum is about leadership. We want our people to have a great sense of ethics, morals and a sense of responsibility to their community and team. We like to say we develop the entrepreneur, the product and the business -- in that order.
In terms of the workspace, we have CNC machines and several 3-D printers, including an Autodesk Ember printer and an Italian FABtotum. We’re always adding more machinery and, of course, we have hand and power tools.
What’s ahead in 2016?
We’re not only supporting companies, we’re also building a community around us, opening our space to middle- and high-school students in an effort to create more entrepreneurs and makers. We’d also like to grow the incubator to host more than four companies at a time, and we’re looking for investors to help us do that.
In terms of applicants, I would love to see an increase in female founders applying. We’re open to international candidates and already have teams from India and China. And it would be great to see more people tackling primary challenges such as energy and water solutions in addition to cool wearables and toys.