Goals of the project
Rev, Ithaca Startup works, is a new business incubator located in downtown Ithaca, New York. Rev, is a joint project of New York State and three local schools of higher education, Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College. Rev is a member-based general business incubator open to anyone in the community looking to launch or grow a business. Unique to Rev, as a business incubator, is a well-equipped prototyping shop allowing for the development of physical products. The prototyping space allows businesses access to the tools and facilities required to get an idea off of the “napkin” and into a physical form. A core philosophy at Rev is use of the Business Model Canvas. Typically used for software startups, Rev is using the Business Model Canvas with hardware startups encouraging them to maximize customer interactions every step of the way through the product development cycle. Rev not only provides a location for early stage companies to launch but also provides mentorship through 3 on-site Entrepreneurs in Residence who provide mentoring to companies starting at the ideation stage through to product launch and beyond.
Nature of the Collaboration
Beyond the collaboration between New York State and the three schools Rev is part of a larger business development ecosystem in Ithaca, New York. Rev works in collaboration with local institutions and businesses involved in the many aspects of physical product development.
Ithaca Generator, Ithaca’s local Maker Space, is an excellent resource for people to be introduced to product development topics including embedded electronics such as the Arduino, 3D design for 3D printing and traditional woodworking.
Ithaca is home to excellent educational institutions with top-tier engineering, computer science and business schools. Rev helps its members gain access to academic experts in fields such as 3D printing, materials science, fabrics, ergonomics, and software engineering. The opportunities for close collaboration and access to advanced shared-use facilities make Rev an excellent place to start a product business.
Upstate New York has a long history of manufacturing and as a result, businesses incubating at Rev can partner with local companies specializing in fields such as high precision prototyping and electronics manufacturing.
The Rev prototyping shop focuses on consumer and business products. Typical skills required include electronics design using off-the-shelf micro-controllers, physical design of enclosures that can be prototyped on either a laser cutter or 3D printer, sewing, woodworking, and coding skills for both embedded systems and cloud based IOT type projects.
Laser Cutter – Enclosure design
3D Printers – Enclosure Design
Electronics Bench – Electronics Assembly and testing
CNC – PCB milling and enclosures
Power and hand tools – assembly
Sewing - Wearables
Variety of programming languages including Python, C++, and Ruby
Rev was originally conceived as a traditional business incubator but not long into the design process all participants agreed to the addition of a product prototyping space. This space is now an important component of the value proposition for Rev member companies.
Rev received official word of funding in late 2013 and opened temporary space during the summer of 2014, finally taking occupancy of the first of 2 floors of its final space in September of 2014. Shortly after the official incubator opening, the Rev prototyping workshop was up and running. Currently, Rev has 10 member companies, 4 of which are focused on physical products. Rev recently was awarded a grant by the SBA and will be conducting a hardware accelerator program during the summer of 2015. This 12-week cohort-based program will take 6 teams through the process of ideation, business validation, and prototyping. Graduating teams will have made sufficient progress to raise additional funds and enter the product launch phase.
Rev will take occupancy of its second floor of incubator space in the second half of 2015, bringing the total footprint of Rev to 8500 square feet.
Core to Rev’s philosophy of product prototyping is the idea that teams can "self serve", that is to say, team members must be able to safely operate prototyping equipment with minimal training. The shop was not designed to have dedicated technicians do the work for member companies. Rev adopted this self serve approach with the belief that the only way to truly understand what is possible is to comprehend the function and scope of each tool and material in the shop. With this strategy came the requirement from Rev’s insurance providers for assurance that equipment could indeed be operated safely, with a minimum of training. Lastly, if members are to confidently, competently and safely self serve then the software tool chains for each piece of equipment must be easy to learn with lots of online support and examples. To achieve this goal and meet the three criteria of ease of use, safety and easy to learn tool chains, Rev carefully selected tools that are as “appliance-like” as possible. Where available, tools are fully enclosed and have straightforward GUI interfaces. Even with this careful tool selection, Rev found itself having to create an online directory of equipment usage and safety training and has decided to bring on a part-time technician to support member companies.
Although Rev is in its early stages there are already 10 member companies with several more in the pipeline to join in the next few months. With the award of an SBA grant that will help fund a hardware accelerator program, Rev will be positioned to champion and mentor companies focused on the “Entrepreneurship of Making Things”. Even at this early stage Rev member companies are raising funds, developing products and in some cases already in market
Innovations, impact and successes
Still early in its development Rev serves as home to companies that may have left the Ithaca area if Rev did not exist. Additionally Rev is one of four incubators in the Southern Tier Innovation Hotspot. Other member incubators in Corning and Binghamton are closely following the success of the prototyping facility at Rev and are considering similar facilities at their locations.