If you’ve been reading any of the CES headlines, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that “this is the year of the startup.” Look: “They have their own showroom section at The Venetian! Look how many of them there are! Aren’t they so cool?”
If hardware startups have ever had their moment to shine among the big dogs, now is it. Mainstream media organizations from The LA Times to USA Today are devoting chunks of their coverage to the startups in The Venetian, despite the corporate glitz and glamor beckoning to them from the Convention Center down the way.
CES is simply a reflection of what people have been saying all year: Hardware entrepreneurship is back.
There’s a myriad of reasons why. The success of companies like thermostat Nest and smart watch Pebble have paved the way for more experimentation. Crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter allow hardware company founders to raise money for their vision when investors are too scared to take a chance on them. 3D printers let entrepreneurs prototype, mess up, and prototype again without breaking the bank. Developments in microchip processors, electric motors, and other components have made it easier to build an affordable physical product. The trend towards the Internet of Things and connected products have brought hardware back in vogue.
These are the same reasons why CES attendees and reporters are paying more attention to hardware startups at the show this year. Indiegogo co-founder Slava Rubin reflected on the startup friendly Eureka Park in past shows. “A few years ago, they didn’t even have a startup section. One year ago there were booths in Eureka Park but no one came to see them,” Slava remembers. “This year, it was packed and you could barely move.”
I saw that myself after spending a day at The Venetian and a day at the Convention Center. The Convention Center might have had the bigger, flashier displays, the miked up spokespeople shouting nonsensical terms into the crowd (detachable! curved! mobile generation!), and mini-stage interviews with 50 Cent. But per square meter, the crowd at The Venetian was just as dense.
Furthermore, the gadgets shown at The Venetian beat the bland, boring electronics littering most of the Convention Center. How can a phone or a television set compare to panoramic ball cameras and pet webcams that dispense treats?
“I predict that in coming years the startups will take over CES,” Rubin says. “They have way more innovative and interesting products than the big companies, and consumers will clamor for more.” He’s wishful thinking — by very virtue of being a startup said companies don’t have the loads of cash required to edge out their corporate counterparts.
But perhaps CES will feature the little guys more and more. Perhaps next year, they won’t be stuck in the windowless, airless basement of The Venetian.
A startup reporter can dream.
[Image via Thinkstock]