Scott Cohen at New Lab

Scott Cohen (New Lab) on why he is building a hardware hub in NYC

Here at RUKI, we’re continuing our series of interviews with people who are changing the hardware industry and have strong opinions on how to shape its future.
Recently, we spoke with the co-founder of New Lab, social entrepreneur, and film director Scott Cohen. He told us about the renovation of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the advantages of NYC for hardware founders.

New Lab is an independent, interdisciplinary space designed to support entrepreneurs working in emerging technologies, and a pioneering resource for new tech, hardware, and manufacturing in New York City. Based in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, New Lab provides the tools and community that unite and support up to 500 hardware-centric innovators, representing nearly 100 companies in a variety of fields — including robotics, A.I., urban technology, and energy — and fosters collaboration and advancement across disciplines.

Please, tell us about your background. How did your experience in filmmaking and social entrepreneurship help you in building New Lab?
I am both a filmmaker and an entrepreneur, and I’ve always been someone who believes in the power of an individual to launch ideas. When my friend — now a partner in New Lab — David Belt and I first saw Brooklyn Navy Yard Building 128, which is the crown jewel of the Navy Yard, we were immediately taken with the place as a platform to launch new ideas. We thought about the building’s industrial past — it’s a former shipbuilding machine shop — and started thinking about the state-of-the-art of manufacturing today. We imagined New Lab as an independent place and resource for frontier technologies and the people building them. We created New Lab as means to support and accelerate what we already saw happening, which was innovative people doing important, challenging work in New York City.

What was the most challenging part of building New Lab? How did you overcome these difficulties? What are you working on now?
The most challenging part for us was getting different stakeholders to believe in the vision for the kind of place we were building, and believe in the ripple effect that could come from creating a place like New Lab. We were ultimately able to help them visualize it by bringing together fascinating companies from around the world to work together in our Beta space — it was there that people were able to see that when you bring a diverse group of professionals together and give them space and resources to collaborate with each other meaningful things could happen.

New Lab launched in September, and today at six months in we have 400 people working there daily, representing over 70 different companies. I like to work with entrepreneurs — there are some companies that I am working closely with to help them scale, and to help attract capital to their enterprises when I have the relationships to do so. We are also focusing on creating more funding opportunities for the companies in New Lab’s community.

It seems that most of the hardware startups are working in Silicon Valley. Why do people choose NYC over the Bay Area? What advantages and disadvantages do NYC-based startups have?
I don’t agree with the statement that most hardware startups are in Silicon Valley. This was one of the big discoveries during our initial research for New Lab: there are a tremendous amount of businesses based in New York city that is enabled by advanced technologies. They are so many industries represented in New York, and the majority of them will be touched by these types of tech. This is an important reason to build companies in New York: you have access to the epicenter of so many other industries — industries that can help inform the future of your business.

The major disadvantage of New York is true for anyone living in New York: there’s a high cost of living and a run on space. We built New Lab so that entrepreneurs could have access to space (New Lab is 84,000 square foot), advanced prototyping equipment, and, not least of all, each other.

<iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/143614576" width=”640" height=”360" frameborder=”0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/143614576">Introducing: StrongArm Technologies</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/olivejuicefilms">Allie Esslinger</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>

Who are your customers? Can you tell us the most interesting examples of hardware companies at New Lab?
Our customers are high-impact, scalable companies working in frontier technologies at the intersection of hardware and software. Some great examples from New Lab’s community are Nanotronics Imaging, which has merged three types of microscopy into one robotic system. Nanotronics is transforming a whole range of industries that rely on nanoscale inspection — from next-gen silicon wafer manufacturing to food production and health sciences. There’s also StrongArm Technologies, which is building both a dashboard and a set of tools that help large companies with workforces powered by manual labor. StrongArm’s technologies assess the risk of injury in the workplace. Another worth highlighting is QuiO, which has created a connected syringe that monitors and tracks dosage, as well as data-points, for self-injection. These three companies really represent the diversity of the companies based at New Lab.

Are you trying to build a community around New Lab? How?
A community is a very important part of what New Lab is, and our community reaches far beyond the walls of our facility in Brooklyn. We have partners associated with New Lab who are in Istanbul, Hong Kong, and Silicon Valley. And they range from startups to corporations — we hope that New Lab will be an important network-builder that can help focus technologies on the pressing issues of our time. All three types of New Lab membership — resident, corporate, and flex — are detailed on our website.

Which technologies and/or devices are you excited about? What can change the world of manufacturing soon?
The technologies that will transform manufacturing are being driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning. The combination of AI and robotics is going to transform manufacturing as we know it.

Are there non-electronic companies that are producing everyday objects and require manufacturing in New Lab?
There is a wide variety of work being done, and prototyped, at New Lab. A few companies that are rethinking everyday objects/practices include Farmshelf, which is creating vertical farms that reimagine what local produce can mean, especially in a city, and Spuni, which has created an ergonomic baby spoon.

Which objects are hard to reimagine? For example, cars are difficult to build, so when can we expect the democratization of the manufacturing of them?

New Lab is built to help entrepreneurs tackling hard-to-solve problems. There seems to be a democratization in humans’ access to space; we have a company at New Lab, called Launcher, which is on a ten-year mission to deliver small satellites to orbit. At New Lab, their team is developing “Engine-1” — a 3D printed liquid propellant rocket engine that they’ll be testing this summer.

Do you believe that hundreds of small hardware companies can dominate the market and reshape it?
I believe some hardware companies will dominate the market, and others will be acquired by those larger companies.

You see a lot of hardware startups and know their pains. What advice would you give to young hardware founders?
First, I don’t think we should misconstrue what a hardware company is: a good hardware company always incorporates some software and uses data to inform how the product operates and finds its way into the marketplace. My advice for hardware founders is to start small and lean, and adeptly understand the problem you’re solving. And: prototype, prototype, prototype.

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RUKI is a hardware incubator, based in Shenzhen, Moscow and San Francisco.

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