AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup: why you should be there!

Sabrina Sasaki
Makers Boot Camp
Published in
6 min readApr 20, 2018

For the 4th consecutive year, the most International Hardware pitch competition in the US brings opportunities for entrepreneurs — more than just a USD 50,000 prize. See what you’ve missed this year!

Winners of@AlphaLabGear #HWCup2018. 1st Place, @SomaticLabs. 2nd, @wearlilu. 3rd, @lumirlight. Photo Credits: Foo Connor and

As a hardware startup supporter, I’ve been following AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup since 2016, when FabFoundry (NYC) invited us to co-organize a domestic version of the event. The idea was not only to select a Japanese candidate to go to Pittsburgh (where the global event happens), but also to identify gaps & opportunities in our ecosystem to foment local entrepreneurs.

AlphaLab Gear is working to have new International hubs from 2019 on.

There’s been a great engagement in the US regional finals, where 40 startups have had the chance to compete for a few available positions! As hardware is still a way longer, more expensive and challenging path to go, such a sample of startups showing up as strong candidates proves American ecosystems have done a great job on setting an example for other global hubs.

Hardware startups need a lot of iterations to be done in-house, with the help of strong and experienced supporters. Local hub help is a key factor for founders committed to a solution to actually being able to execute it.

Source: HAX Hardware Trends 2017.

Hardware startup business depends much more on a connected ecosystem that supports it, as it can’t count on the same agility that software startups have when bootstrapping.

If you have doubts, just check Kickstarter recommendations and be sure to find qualified support to help deliver your campaign.

“Certainly every time a hardware project fails to deliver, it’s a headline,” Kickstarter CEO/co-founder Yancey Strickler told TechCrunch.

Much has been covered about startups but the truth is: not many hardware ecosystems are mature enough.

Our main challenge has been following up on hubs where hardware startups still don’t have enough visibility. AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup offers a premium chance to get a taste from different ecosystems!

Some reasons why you should be there next year:

  1. It happens in Pittsburgh, where Innovation Works.

It’s not a coincidence that many startups from Pittsburgh have achieved so many milestones! Thanks to Carnegie Mellon University prestige in bringing students, professors and professionals from IoT related fields, like robotics & computer science, combined to private capital and local government efforts, the city managed to move from a steel production to a real innovation hub, where old warehouses have became startup HQ factories. From Uber & Google to companies like Sony, top R&D teams have some deep connection with Pittsburgh. This change has been happening for a long time, with many entrepreneurs and mentors leading the way.

Jeff McDaniel (Innovation Works) spoke about the unique advantages Pittsburgh can offer, during our student meetup in Kyoto.

Pittsburgh seems to have leveraged its status by scaling a connected local startup ecosystem through a growing number of incubators, accelerators and VCs working together. Such efforts from players like Innovation Works place the city on the top 10 active seed investors in the world(see chart below).

HAX and Innovation Works: the only hardware startup-focused to top Crunchbase seed-investor ranking.

2. Female works & challenges lead the way where childcare is free.
A panel discussion about Culture, Diversity, Inclusion & Successful Scaling within the Startup Environment organized by IEEE N3XT®, giving women the opportunity to learn, network and collaborate with tech and engineering-driven startup community.

Much has been told about how to empower female professionals in mainly male dominated environments, but not many events have supported female attendees pitching on stage, while their kids were taken care of.

Free childcare has been provided by Flexable from 5 PM to 10 PM. Attendees could register and use the service for free.

Meanwhile, startup Lilu wins the special prize for its first automated compression bra to support mothers (even while not breastfeeding), by its innovative pumping system attached to the piece of fabric.

3.A startup lead by a South Korean female wins 2nd place.

When we hear about Asian startups, all attention tends to go China, as Shenzhen is the main global hub for hardware innovation.

The local Hardware Cup in South Korea you might haven’t heard of is organized by N15, and this year takes an award back to Asia.

Lumir, founded by engineer Jehwan Park, aims to make electricity available to a broader amount of people by lowering the cost of power. The startup created a lamp that converts heat into brighter electrical light, It’s tea candle powered LED lamps debuted on Kickstarter, aiming to use the product’s profit to develop its kerosene-powered device, for developing countries by an accessible price.

4. Japanese passion for smart toilets and cats

As most of the local startups tend to be focused on cryptocurrency or SAAS, Japan brings its historical geek-ness to help rethink its future. Japanese winner Hachitama represents some of the most popular Japanese contributions to the world: smart toilets, electronics & its passion for cats.

Hachitama introduced Toletta, the world’s first IoT Japanese toilet for cats. Photo by Kathleen Lassiter, IEEE.

5. Brazilians focused on coffee on-the-go experiences.

Latin America has not many hubs for hardware startups. UNA Smart pitch brings a local flavor from Brazil, where coffee is still king, but now adding a combination of eco-friendly capsule + bottle that can help improve and personalize coffee experience for urban & busy, saving time and adding flavor to the hot or cold drink.

Brazilian local version of Get in the Ring brought a hardware startup to Hardware Cup this year, which was very surprising — not many hardware candidates were on the local shortlist.

5. 2017 Startup winner Vagenie shared her updates on stage

Julia Rose, CEO & Founder of Vagenie, shared her experience since winning last year’s competition, and her next steps to bring her modern Kegel fitness and tracking solution to market — “It’s like a Fitbit for your ladybits.”

She also introduced other startups short pitches, from US regional hubs and also the Japanese ones: Challenergy & SmartShopping.

6. Judges were hardware-focused with a diverse background.

Most of us can’t really understand what launching a hardware startup means! Having a curated group of Investors & Mentors who understand hardware entrepreneurs daily life brings a more dynamic pace to the Q&A session, and the team of judges were keen to leverage the talks.

7. After pitching, #PartylikeAnEngineer

Because after so many pitches, better grab some food & drinks and enjoy the networking with such a qualified audience!

8. Your hardware startup should be there next year!

We’re excited to hear about new hardware startup hubs. Let us know how we could collaborate with yours:!

See you in Pittsburgh at Hardware Cup 2019!



Sabrina Sasaki
Makers Boot Camp

Latina in Toronto. Principal@Monozukuri VC. Innovation, cultures & people. Investment & BizDev. Early Stage Hard-tech/Manufacturing Emerging Manager