Posts Tagged "small business"

Hardware Startups: The Challenges of Scaling Up

September 28, 2016
3D Innovations
IP Licensing

Most entrepreneurs start out hitting the ground running and want to take their idea, build upon it, and scale it quickly; however, scaling hardware startups come with unique sets of challenges to consider. Growing any business has inherent obstacles and the basics must be considered, such as: funding, talent and competition—hardware startups also need to take into account additional vital aspects, such as: sourcing, manufacturing and intellectual property. Scaling is a tricky task—scale too quickly and you can get in over your head, scale too slowly and you risk losing momentum and opportunities.  Below are some common pitfalls to avoid when scaling your hardware startup.

Losing touch with your customer.

When you are growing a company it is imperative that you keep your current customers happy. These are the customers that have made it possible for you to scale your business in the first place and you don’t want to let them down with poor customer service now. It is also extremely easy to start to get “sloppy” as you introduce new product versions or product lines, and these errors will whittle away at your customer retention. The core elements of a successful business are customers and products, so even in times of growth, both should be at the front of your mind.

Manufacturer sourcing.

Manufacturing can be the Achilles heel for hardware startups. One misstep in the vetting process or in contract development with a manufacturer and your business can sink. If you don’t have experience going through the contract manufacturing sourcing process, it is critical to find advisors or consultants that have. You are going to want to embrace competition and have multiple manufacturers bidding on your project. Your meetings with manufacturers are as much about pitching to them to get them excited about your project, as it is about doing your due diligence on their facilities and experience.

Streamlining a strategy.

At the beginning, your hardware startup will have one goal in mind: To successfully develop a product and get it onto store shelves. All team members will work towards this single goal on a daily basis. As you begin scale, your strategy and goals will transform, change and multiply. The fluidity of your new goals can make it hard for founders to take their mindset from that of laser-focused product development to business high-level. As your list of goals begins to grow, your strategy will shift to taking the top three or four-high level goals and focus teams accordingly.

Scaling a business is rewarding. Taking the time now to plan and prepare for sustainable growth will serve your startup well.

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Product Design: GoPro Mount Accessory [Case Study]

3D INNOVATIONS CASE STUDY

The challenge: Develop a hands-free GoPro mount accessory.

Our 3D Innovations team worked closely with a group of young entrepreneurs during Startup Weekend Honolulu 2015 in the product design and development of a hands-free GoPro mount accessory. With only 54 hours to develop and prototype the idea, time was of the essence.

go pro accessoryThe initial concept was to develop a clip that would attach a Go Pro camera to the front of your hat for hands free video action shots. Using our 3D Design process, we were able to take the initial idea and develop a functional design. Numerous factors needed to be accounted for throughout the product design phasesize, weight and materials. 3D Printing technology was utilized to accommodate the rapid product development cycle. Several versions of the prototype were produced in a short period of time, which allowed the team to test and conduct customer validation studies.

With the final design, this accessory can now replace over a dozen mounts for GoPros, iPhones, audio recorders and lights. The easy to use and compact hands-free mount design makes it easy to take along on your next adventure.

Using our 3D Design and 3D Printing process, we were able to save over $4,000 in prototyping costs while reducing the development time from weeks or months to just days. The utilization of 3D printing technology led to significant cost savings, which allowed the team to develop several versions that were validated through the customer discovery process and led to the final production-ready design.

Results: Designed and developed a functional prototype in 54 hours.

“Working with 3D Innovations allowed us to turn our concept into a prototype and help win the 2015 Startup Weekend Honolulu event. With the assistance from 3D Innovations, we have a concept that can be brought to life through crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter. This will help us raise the necessary funds to mass produce this product.”

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

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Five Questions to Ask a Potential Product Development Partner

September 12, 2016
3D Innovations

product developmentFinding the right product development partner to assist you as you take an idea from concept to product is a major undertaking—and can often be the difference between success and failure.  Product development is a collaborative endeavor, and you want to have a team that is able to clearly communicate, develop and deliver your product on time and on budget.

Here are the five key questions that you need to ask while searching for the right product development company.

How will we define clear requirements?

It’s crucial to be able to clearly define the goals of the engagement early-on. Many times entrepreneurs will need to set these goals before talking with product development firms, so that they are in a better position when asking for, and comparing, proposals.  Depending on the scope of the project, a firm might ask the client to engage in a preliminary “discovery” phase to gather all baseline requirements before submitting a formal proposal. This “discovery” phase is most often used when there is extensive research or testing involved.

What is your related expertise?

Are you looking for a partner that has experience in a particular field, a specialty or quick turnaround? Lay out the characteristics of your ideal firm and begin your search with this criteria in mind. Be cognizant of the fact that you may not find a firm that meets all of your criteria perfectly. It is best to approach companies that are suited to projects your size—a firm with 500 employees might not be an ideal match for an entrepreneur with a $30,000 budget.

How well do you adapt to change?

There is no doubt that the product development path is fraught with obstacles and challenges. A firm that is able to be flexible will serve you well. Flexibility is important for a number of reasons—scope-of-work, design and deadline changes occur frequently and you don’t want each change to be a “battle” between you and the firm.

What method do you use for setting deliverables?

A common understanding of deliverables is necessary to demonstrate results. A lack of agreement on deliverable from the onset is a big factor in dissatisfaction from both parties. Without set deliverables, debates about quality and expectations are bound to happen—which leads to frustration and wasted time.

A couple of examples:

  • Is a prototype a required deliverable? If so, do you need it to be a proof-of-concept, or a functional model?
  • Is a user-manual a required deliverable? If so, do you want it made by the product development firm, or will the firm just be assisting?

Going into details such as this will help clarify deliverables for both parties.

What will our acceptance criteria be?

Breaking larger projects into phases is common and payments can be contingent on the phase being “complete”, therefore both parties need a clear understanding of what “complete” means. This leads back to deliverables—have they been met and are both parties satisfied that they were met in a complete manner? Scheduling final review meetings are an easy way to stay on track with deliverables and to know when each phase has been completed.

The above questions will not only help you find a product development partner, but will set the foundation for a successful, productive and profitable relationship. In the end, you want to get your idea off the drawing board and into the marketplace on time and on budget.

*If you are searching for a product development partner for your next project, contact us at info@3d-innovations.com

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

Startup Connector is a Manufacturing Accelerator helping companies commercialize—turning ideas into products.

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The Benefits of a Functional Prototype

September 6, 2016
3D Innovations

Rushing through the product development phase can be tempting because all hardware startups want to launch as soon as possible, however one step you can’t afford to skip is that of building a functional prototype. Building a prototype does take time, but in the end, the amount of time and money it will save you makes up for the extra couple weeks. If you find yourself on the fence about creating a prototype, here are a few facts to consider.

Why prototype my idea?

industrial_design-handleRefine your design. While a product idea might look great on paper or when speaking about it, the actual design might need to be reworked. Your design needs to be functional and manufacturable, and a prototype can make sure that both of these requirements are met. There is no better time to work out the “bugs” than at this stage, when changes are still inexpensive and easily made.

Gather market feedback. Get your functional prototype into the hands of your target market. Asking customers to imagine a product can be quite a challenge and the feedback you receive will not be all that beneficial. On the other hand, presenting this group with a prototype lets them touch your idea and get a real feel for the product and its functionality. With accurate market feedback you will be in a better position when it comes to finalizing the design and launching your product.

Rally financial support. Are you planning on reaching out to VCs or crowdfunding your product? If so, a functional prototype is a must. VCs want to see that you can deliver an actual product and are ready to move into manufacturing. Crowdfunding campaigns are much more successful when they can demonstrate functionality with a prototype.

File a patent. Obtaining a patent is a way to secure your intellectual property and in doing so there are many documents that need to be filed. Having a prototype will make technical drawings easier and you will be better able to describe your product in the USPTO application.

While there are many more reasons to build a prototype, these four stand out because of the real financial impact they have on your startup. When it comes time to launch your product, you want to be confident and prepared for what lies ahead.

Ready to take the leap into prototype development? We can help! Contact us at info@3d-innovations.com to get started.

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

Startup Connector is a Manufacturing Accelerator helping companies commercialize—turning ideas into products.

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Hardware Startups: Can I Patent My Invention?

August 29, 2016
3D Innovations

IP_patentA patent for your invention is useful, in that it gives you exclusive rights to the idea/product (for twenty years), allows you to license the invention and provides a strong market position. However, to obtain a patent your invention must meet certain criteria. Here are a few important questions to ask yourself in determining whether your invention is patentable.

  1. Did you invent it? A patent can only be applied for by the actual inventor or co-inventor. If you were not the inventor, but contributed financially, you will not be able to patent the product on your own. If the inventor was employed by another person or company to develop the invention, the patent will still be issued under the inventor’s name. However, ownership of the patent will be with the employer.
  2. Is your invention useful? Under U.S. law the invention must be “useful” to be eligible for protection. To meet this requirement the product must provide some benefit and is capable of use. It is important to note that most inventions meet this criteria.
  3. Is your invention “non-obvious”? If your product is already common knowledge in its field, then it would not meet this requirement. This determination is made by deciding whether the invention sought to be patented would have been obvious “to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which the claimed invention pertains”. Determination of whether a particular change or improvement is “obvious” is one of the most difficult determinations in patent law.
  4. Does it fall under a patentable category? Patents are available for processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and improvements to any of those classes. If your idea is in regards to laws of nature, physical phenomena, abstract ideas or non-useful objects, it will not be eligible for a patent.
  5. Has your invention been disclosed to the public? If so, your invention will not be patentable. This requirement states that your idea must be “new” and not discussed publicly prior to the date of the filing. If you invention has been made available for public use or disclosed in a prior patent application it will not be eligible for a patent.

Have additional questions regarding the patent process? We highly recommend a visit to the USPTO website. We are also able to help answer any questions you may have, please e-mail them to info@3d-innovations.com

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

Startup Connector is a Manufacturing Accelerator helping companies commercialize—turning ideas into products.

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Hardware Startups: Defining Your Niche Market

August 22, 2016
3D Innovations

Launching hardware startups, or any type of business for that matter, is a gamble—but defining and finding your niche market doesn’t have to be. Knowing your niche market is one way for hardware startups to quickly get their product into the hands of consumers and find success.

What is a niche market?

niche_market“A small but profitable segment of a market suitable for focused attention by a business. Market niches do not exist by themselves, but are created by identifying needs or wants that are not being addressed by competitors, and by offering products that satisfy them.” (Business Dictionary)

Developing a product that specifically targets a segment of the market that is not having their needs met is a great way to scale a business quickly. The competition is low and the barriers to entry are minimal, which is an ideal landscape for launching a hardware startup.

Defining a Niche Market

Defining your niche market means that you need to have a deep understanding of both your product and the consumers you are marketing your product towards. Below are a few ideas on how to define a niche market for your hardware startup.

  • Define The Gap. What is missing and how will your product address it? Identify “the gap”, or problem, in an existing larger market that you aim to solve.
  • Understand Your Ideal Customer. With whom do you want to do business? Be as specific as you can. Create a “wish list” and narrow your ideal customer down as much as possible. For example, a small niche would be: customers located in Northern California, which make $60,000+ a year and are avid outdoor biking enthusiasts. This focus will help you develop your product and find your target market.
  • Focus. Clarify the product that you want to develop and sell. Have a clear understanding of your product and how it meets the needs of your ideal consumer. For example, you don’t want to say that you are going to design a GoPro accessory; instead you can say that you want to sell a GoPro accessory that easily attaches to a baseball hat.
  • Identify Your Strengths. What sets your hardware startup apart? Three factors to consider, what makes your startup unique, identifiable and is it scalable? You should be able to apply these three characteristics to both your startup and your buyer personas. While your business might be starting out in a small niche, having a product that is scalable will translate into long-term growth and success.

Once you have a clear understanding of the niche market you are aiming your product towards, take time to test this market and be ready to re-evaluate if necessary. In the end, having a firm understanding of your niche market will mean that your startup is taking a calculated risk, and not just a gamble.

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

Startup Connector is a Manufacturing Accelerator helping companies commercialize—turning ideas into products.

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The Upside & Downside of Crowdfunding for Hardware Startups

August 15, 2016
3D Innovations

With the exponential growth of crowdfunding, hardware startups are finding it easier to raise funds and launch their product into the marketplace. For instance, on Kickstarter in 2015, the amount of money going to funded projects increased by 35%, or $160 Million more than in 2014. There were 54,831 projects funded on Kickstarter in 2015, which is an increase of over 10,000 from the previous year. In addition, the Design and Technology categories were among the fastest growing segments.* Crowdfunding continues to grow in popularity and has transformed into a viable funding option for hardware entrepreneurs. However, like any type of business funding, crowdfunding has its upside and downside, and before you setup your campaign there are a few things to consider.

Upside of Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is often viewed as a way to raise funds and validate your product idea (both of which are true and terrific for startups). However, there is one aspect that many hardware entrepreneurs fail to consider, it is the community support of your early-adopters. The influence that these backers have on the success of your crowdfunding campaign should not be taken lightly.

hardware crowdfundingThe early-adopters help create, define and market your product to a much larger audience.  Through comments and feedback on your crowdfunding page, you will be able to get a firm grasp on your product-market fit; which in turn, will let you know if you are on the right path or if you need to pivot your current product and redesign your strategy. In this manner, crowdfunding is the culmination of the lean startup.

Through your early-adopters you also gain exposure that you would not have been able to receive if you went solely with the traditional Venture Capital (“VC”) funding route. The more exposure your campaign receives and the more public interest it garnishes, will undoubtedly affect your product’s funding. Recently, VCs have started paying close attention to successful campaigns as a way to evaluate a startup before investing their own funds. Hardware investors understand that crowdfunding campaigns give an advantage to startups because they speed up the market feedback process—which in turn, helps minimize a VCs potential investment risk.

Downside of Crowdfunding

Failed campaigns, wasted time and underestimated product development costs are crowdfunding downsides experienced by startups. When you are an early-stage startup there is nothing worse than failure and wasted time. To prepare for these potential missteps it is crucial that you plan ahead.

While a failed campaign can be attributed to a number of things, the most common factor is the lack of an engaging story. Early-adopters need to be motivated to invest in your product, and one way to do this is through an interesting campaign with a backstory that grabs their attention. Your “story delivery” also demonstrates to early-adopters that you have a strong marketing strategy that will translate well from your crowdfunding campaign and into the marketplace.

Another pitfall to avoid is asking for the wrong amount of funding. Estimating your total development costs can be tricky, but this risk can be minimized with the input from experienced team members and outside consultants. Manufacturing and packaging is one area that is particularly challenging for hardware entrepreneurs, and getting a firm “estimate” can be even harder. (Our advice, research potential manufacturers and meet with a variety of them before settling on one.) If your dollar estimate is off, it can sink even the best crowdfunding campaign.

Without and engaging story or correct project cost estimates you risk crowdfunding failure. The time you spend crowdfunding will be wasted, which can be detrimental for early-stage hardware startups.

*ICO Partners Kickstarter in 2015—Review in numbers

Have additional questions regarding crowdfunding for your hardware startup? Send them our way, info@3d-innovations.com

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

Startup Connector is a Manufacturing Accelerator helping companies commercialize—turning ideas into products.

Subscribe to the 3D Innovations newsletter on our Facebook page!

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Lean Startup Principles for Hardware Entrepreneurs

August 8, 2016
3D Innovations

The Lean Startup methodology is a principled approach to new product development that can be applied to startups and corporations alike. While the Lean Startup approach is most often attributed to technology startups, it can be used by businesses of all kinds and at all stages of growth. The five principles of the Lean Startup guide you through the product development process while maximizing business acceleration.

The Five Lean Startup Principles:

  1. Entrepreneurs are Everywhere
  2. Entrepreneurship is Management
  3. Validated Learning
  4. Innovation Accounting
  5. Build-Measure-Learn

At the core of these principles are three goals: eliminate uncertainty, work smarter and continuously validate learning.

Eliminate Uncertainty

By eliminating uncertainty as well as a “just do it” mentality, you are able to take a measured approach to product development. Creating tools that constantly and accurately test your vision provide your startup with the necessary insight to know when to pivot or move forward.

Work Smarter

lean startupInstead of asking yourself, “Can this product be built?” the lean methodology asks you to take a step back and instead ask, “Should this product be built?” By changing your mindset in this manner you are asking the question, “Can we build a sustainable business around this product?”

Gathering the data to answer these questions will connect you with early-adopters. With each prototype, you are able to test your product with these customers and garner feedback. By the time you are ready to begin distribution, you will already have established customers in place. By working smarter, you save business resources, set a methodology around product development and ultimately eliminate uncertainty.

Validated Learning

Embracing validated learning shrinks the product development process and can save a significant amount of time and money for your startup. Validated learning stems back to the idea of finding your early-adopters and target market early on. When you have open communication with this audience you are able to rapidly adapt changes that they value.

Too many startups begin with an idea for a product that they think people want without actually asking their target customers if they would use it, and more importantly, purchase it. Speaking to prospective customers is critical and can often mean success or failure for a startup. Congruent with the validated learning concept, is the development of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

What is a Minimum Viable Product?

“The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning with the least effort.”

The core principle of the Lean Startup method is the build-measure-learn feedback loop. The first step in this process is to establish the problem that needs to be solved. Once the problem is established, an MVP is developed to find a solution as quickly as possible. At this stage, time is of the essence. Once an MVP is established, you then work to fine tune it with measured metrics and customer feedback. When the measurement and learning aspects of the feedback loop are done correctly, your team will be able to decide if the startup is moving in the right direction or if a course correction is necessary. All successful startup processes should be geared to accelerate this build-measure-learn feedback loop.

The Lean Startup Principles have been shown time and again to speed up product development and successfully launch products into the marketplace. While this business methodology has been embraced by technology startups, hardware entrepreneurs are seeing its benefits and incorporating it into their own businesses as well.

Have questions about the Lean Startup methodology or the product development process? Contact us, info@3d-innovations.com

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

Startup Connector is a Manufacturing Accelerator helping companies commercialize—turning ideas into products.

Subscribe to the 3D Innovations newsletter on our Facebook page!

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Product Design: What Does It Take To Develop A Successful Product?

August 3, 2016
3D Innovations

Product design is where engineering and art intersect—combining vision with creativity to develop a product that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Designing a product is one thing, but designing a successful product is quite another. A designer must consider both the functional aspects of the product while keeping the consumer’s interest at the forefront—and these two concepts may not always coincide. While the product design process is rife with challenges, having an experienced team in place will help you navigate these obstacles. Before you dive into the product design process, here are five questions to ask yourself.

  1. What real-world problem is my product solving?

    Products find success because they solve an existing real-world problem experienced by many. Offering people a solution to a problem that consumers are already aware of is key. (If you have to convince your target market that they have a problem, you will face an uphill battle when it comes time to market and sell your product.) After you have identified the real-world problem you are aiming to solve, expand from there with the goal of addressing it.

  2. What is the primary function of my product?

    Asking yourself this question will help layout your priorities early in the design process. In essence, it is a mission statement for your design team. All engineering and design decisions should keep this function in mind and make it a priority throughout the entire product development process.

  3. Is every aspect of the design useful?

    Too many features will get in the way and take away from your product’s intended functionality. If you focus on features over functionality it will be easy to get bogged down with too many bells and whistles. This will undoubtedly slow down product development while diminishing your product’s focus. It is best to start with the basics from the onset and then add components as the design progresses.

  4. Is the design of my product intuitive?

    Consumers crave simplicity—products with sleek designs, clean lines and that are easy to navigate. If your product proves to be too complicated or frustrating, consumers will quickly switch to your competitor. When you are working on the design, always approach it from an “outsider’s” perspective to determine if the design is becoming too cumbersome.

  5. What is my competitive edge over the competition?

    Be innovative. Truly innovative products revolutionize industries and quickly surpass the competition. As with any business, you have to know your competitive advantage and be able to articulate it quickly and concisely. Think of this as your “elevator pitch” and intertwine it into all facets of your design and product marketing.

Having the answers to these questions will not only keep your design on track but will also help clarify the product for your entire team.

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

Startup Connector is a Manufacturing Accelerator helping companies commercialize—turning ideas into products.

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Five Product Development Pitfalls to Avoid

July 12, 2016
3D Innovations

The hardware startup landscape is riddled with product development challenges and barriers, and as an entrepreneur your job is to make sure that you are well equipped to handle whatever comes your way. This by no means is saying that you must have all of the answers—no one is an expert at everything—it is saying that you need to surround yourself with people of differing skill sets to help you along the way.

Below are five common product development pitfalls to avoid as you prepare to develop and launch your product.

costsPoor planning. “Failing to plan, is planning to fail.” Managing your risk and proper product development planning are two ways to overcome this common pitfall. Without a plan in place you leave the door open to errors and derailment. Though plans can—and do—change having one in place is a good way to minimize risk and reduce your time-to-market.

IP Risk. A survey of the IP landscape for your specific product/industry can greatly reduce this risk. Patent attorneys and engineers work together to make sure that your idea is not already patented and that there is ample room to innovate.

Market Risk. While you might find your product to be useful, is there a customer base for it? Are there other people out there who would purchase this product? Assessing the market risk is done through market research. Find your target market and work with them to gauge their needs and build a product that works for them.

Cost Risk. Can you make a profit? You want to be sure that your design is both effective and efficient. Minimizing your costs from the onset is the best way to combat this pitfall. The manufacturing phase of product development is where many entrepreneurs face this challenge. Research manufacturers and find one that has experience manufacturing a product similar to yours—chances are if they have experience, there will be fewer (costly) errors.

Competitive Risk. Work with professionals and team members that have experience navigating your industry. The experience they bring to your startup is invaluable and will help you get to market much faster, thus reducing your competitive risk.

Developing a product and launching a startup is a great adventure. Starting the process prepared and aware of these common pitfalls will undoubtedly help you throughout your entire product development and product launch journey.

Do you have further questions about the product development process? We would love to help! Send them our way, info@3d-innovations.com

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3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.

Startup Connector is a Manufacturing Accelerator helping companies commercialize—turning ideas into products.

Subscribe to the 3D Innovations newsletter on our Facebook page!

Connect with us on TwitterFacebook & LinkedIn today