by Kyle Wiggers
Cleveland may not be the industrial hotbed it once was, but technological developments, catalyzed by the ubiquity and cheapness of manufacturing materials, have managed to breath new life into industry within Northeast Ohio. With the dawn of 3D printing and crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Cleveland could be on the cusp of a new golden era in manufacturing.
At least, that’s what some residents believe.
Todd Goldstein is one man convinced that Cleveland industry is ripe for revitalization. In a show of confidence, LaunchHouse, the startup accelerator he co-founded with entrepreneur Dar Caldwell in 2009, formally unveiled in June a program geared specifically towards funding nascent hardware startups. The enterprise, driven in part by a $200,000 grant from Ohio Third Frontier ONEFund, will invest $20,000 in ten businesses as part of LaunchHouse’s Accelerator (LHX) program. In addition to capital, select startups will have access to a diverse range of resources, including Cleveland State University and the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center.
The folks at LaunchHouse purposefully toss the term “hardware” around loosely — LaunchHouse expects applicant startups to run the gamut, and that’s just fine. “If you have an idea and three quality engineers, we’ll take you — we’ll take that risk.”
Significantly, the program is the first of its kind in Ohio, perhaps in the country — few business incubators, if any, lend support to hardware startups in the early stages. That’s because of the risk some associate with hardware-based companies, but Goldstein said he couldn’t think of a more perfect city than Cleveland to test the waters. “We’re building off the strengths of our region — building off of the manufacturing,” he said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for people to reinvent themselves.”
Despite LaunchHouses’s for-profit status, the goal of the initiative seems almost philanthropic. “We believe that Cleveland was once a strong manufacturing town with a lot of great resources, but along the way, we stopped innovating and taking chances, and investors stopped taking risks” said Goldstein. He believes the emergence of affordable and accessible manufacturing techniques will, he said, “better leverage Cleveland’s niche resources to supply [hardware] startups with increased support, network, mentorship and potential for increased follow on funding.”
For his part, Goldstein hopes the program will help to grow LaunchHouse’s pool of talent. The accelerator has already invested in 51 companies that have raised more than $15 million in funding, but Goldstein’s aspirations extend higher. “The program will broaden our ability to recruit engineers. Everyone imagines a 19-year-old kid in his dorm room developing an app, but we’re looking for all kinds of folks — whether you’re a 25-year-old out of graduate school or 60-year-old who’s been at Eaton for 30 years, we welcome your pitches.”
Ten startups will be selected to participate in the 16-week accelerator program, which will begin September 29.