Software runs the world but hardware and physical products are still part and parcel of our everyday experience. Bill Fienup and his co-founders set out an ambitious goal to help new manufacturers launch and grow. He started small with Catalyze Chicago, a nascent manufacturing innovation hub. Risking their own capital they rented 2,000 square feet, which quickly expanded to 8,000 square feet in five months, serving member companies who had raised $28 million from investors, generating $56 million in revenue.
But that wasn’t enough, and Bill’s plans became what is now mHub, an innovation center focused on physical product development and manufacturing.
We got the chance to do a Q&A with Bill, where we dove into his growing innovation hub and the future of manufacturing:
Bill, you and your partners started small with Catalyze Chicago. Then you took over a Motorola facility. How much money had they put into the facility?
Bill: About $22 million.
You landed a big fish: GE became a corporate partner. How did you get to that high place?
Bill: You have to figure out who is your target market. Is it makers, or manufacturers, or entrepreneurs, or industries, or university students? Who’s going to use the product and where are they struggling? Is it the lack of equipment or tools? The initial hypothesis was let’s build a hub where people have access to tools and access to other talent but what we found was that the community was the most valuable aspect. Not the equipment.
You seeded mHub with $3.5 million worth of equipment spread out through ten different labs, but I get that the value is in the community and expertise. There are incubators and there are accelerators – what are you?
Bill: We’re a manufacturing innovation center. A nonprofit – and we don’t take equity. The focus is on a product that needs to be manufactured. Packaged electronics and IoT connected devices are a focus because of the resources that Motorola built into this facility. We’re at 170 members and 65 companies. We’d love to have a thousand members in the next 3 to 4 years.
There are some similar facilities, like New Lab in Brooklyn, the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) in LA and Greentown Labs in Boston. But they are not the same?
Bill: mHUB is designed for entrepreneurs who have ambition to develop, manufacture products and get it out to the market.
What is the future of advanced manufacturing?
Bill: It’s getting easier to take an idea to market. IoT is a hot area and you’re starting to see some large exits. The Nest thermostat is a good example, a multibillion dollar sale to Google. Oculus Rift sold to Facebook. We’ve seen a lot of these more high profile companies have success in hardware.
When we talk to future oriented technologists like Bill or hear from brilliant nanotechnologists like the great Ralph Merkle who spoke recently at Peter Diamandis’ Abundance360 conference, you get the feeling that the future of manufacturing is going to be radically better, with much faster design cycles at far lower cost.