When many of us think of startups, we think of entrepreneurs intensely focused on their laptops, aiming to build the next Google or Uber – creating digital solutions to problems. Well, some entrepreneurs are working to create good old-fashioned, three-dimensional objects that solve problems. While these entrepreneurs may also be buried in their laptops, they have the additional concern of figuring out how and where to make their products. Is there an incubator for these hardware entrepreneurs?
Yes there is. The Futureworks Incubator, which had been called New York’s Next Top Makers, is designed to support the growth of manufacturing startups in New York City. In addition to the name change that happened back in May, the accelerator program also expanded from working with six companies a year to having three cohorts of 15 to 25 companies. (The incubator started as a contest for manufacturing companies in 2012.)
Companies in all stages are invited to apply to Futureworks, as long as the company’s end goal is to manufacture physical products in NYC. This is because Futureworks is a creation of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which is a central pillar of Mayor De Blasio’s Industrial Action Plan to help emerging and existing manufacturers adopt advanced technologies and increase manufacturing in the city. (Companies that produce non-durable products, such as food, clothing or cosmetics, are not included in the program.)
Depending on how mature the company is, it joins one of three tracks, or cohorts:
Idea Stage Cohort
This cohort includes people at all levels, from first-time to serial entrepreneurs. And the goal for these people is to develop their concept, create a rough prototype and then decide whether or not to try to build a business around the concept.
Market Validation Cohort
Entrepreneurs in this cohort have already-working prototypes and the goal is to refine the product and find the best product/market fit.
Scaling and Manufacturing Cohort.
This cohort is for companies that already have a product in the market, but are looking to connect with new manufacturers, refine their manufacturing process, reach out to new customers or attract new investors.
So why would an entrepreneur apply to the Futureworks Incubator? Aside from the fact that Futureworks is completely free and takes no equity in companies, the incubator provides access to investors, successful business mentors, and nine manufacturing spaces throughout the city, called Futureworks Shops. They are:
A/D/O – Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Bronx Innovation Factory – Fordham Heights, Bronx
Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator – Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn
Collab – Hudson Square, Manhattan
Craftsman Ave – Gowanus, Brooklyn
NEW INC – Nolita, Manhattan
NYDesigns – Long Island City, Queens
Voodoo Manufacturing – Bushwick, Brooklyn
Zahn Innovation Center – Hamilton Heights, Harlem
According to Futureworks, these production spaces were chosen based on their track record of success, geographical diversity, diversity in expertise and experience working with startups.
For example, Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator helps entrepreneurs build smart, sustainable businesses while Zahn Innovation Center focuses on low-cost contract manufacturing. Voodoo Manufacturing specializes in the 3D printing process while Collab offers a modern woodshop in the heart of Manhattan.
Dog Parker is one of the most visible companies (if you live or work in Brooklyn) to have gained from the Futureworks Incubator. Dog Parker produces fully-enclosed dog houses placed outside of storefronts for people to store their dogs while they go shopping. Regardless of the weather outside, the dog houses are always kept at room temperature inside and owners can check on their dogs via a “puppy cam” on the Dog Parker app.