Thanks to a number of new platforms, tools and infrastructures, bringing a viable hardware product to market has never been easier than it has been in the past decade – and the momentum is only continuing to grow.

In 2014, venture capital investment in connected device hardware startups alone reached nearly $1.5B – more than triple the amount invested just two years earlier. Additionally, thanks to a general increased interest in hardware design from the general public thanks to design-centric consumer brands such as Apple and Nest, more people are lining up to be among the first to purchase these new products and share their experiences with friends and through social media.

As many have said – and will continue to say – “hardware is the new software”.

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But unlike creating an app, which can be engineered from a Macbook Air in the back of a coffee shop, developing a hardware product takes a considerable amount of resources, tools and space that many entrepreneurs don’t readily have available. These factors can range from access to CAD software, raw materials, a bandsaw and a 3D printer to even industry insight, advice and a place to store their dozens of physical prototypes. Among other reasons, this is why hackerspaces, makerspaces and hardware incubators have become so popular; they provide everything that’s needed to help an entrepreneur turn an idea into a functional prototype and subsequently, a functional prototype into a production-ready product in a very short amount of time.

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To help in aiding these entrepreneurs through their product development process, Autodesk has announced a new partnership with a number of makerspaces and hardware incubators in North America – including Highway1 in San Francisco, Bolt in Boston and AlphaLab in Pittsburgh, among others – to give entrepreneurs free access and support to their software while developing their product designs.

“Entrepreneurs always remind us that hardware is hard, but one thing that makes prototyping a more seamless iterative process are the design and simulation tools made possible through our partnership with Autodesk,” said Scott Cohen, co-founder and partner at New Lab in New York City.

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“Our portfolio companies, such as FX Industries and Honeybee Robotics, are (already) using all kinds of Autodesk software – Inventor, Simulation FEA and DFM, Alias, Sketchbook – to go all the way from concept to real-world manufacturing. Autodesk software tools combined with our prototyping shop bring designers in close proximity to early prototypes and thus really accelerate the process of creating viable, impactful products.”

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Although Autodesk has always ensured that their pricing model for Fusion 360 is very affordable – if not free – for students, hobbyists, and startups, the company will also be providing free training and assistance, design assistance and even help in providing introductions to those in their network through hosting regular events and ‘keeping office hours’.

The announcement comes on the heels of Dassault Systèmes’ announcement of their own SolidWorks for Entrepreneurs Program.

Unlike Autodesk’s offer to let new businesses use their software for free and with easy access however, Dassault Systèmes has required that applicants to their program step through several hoops involving lengthy paperwork for ‘proof’ – and pay a $200 ‘application fee’.

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While the notion from Dassault is extremely generous when considering the value of a SolidWorks license, the knuckle-grinding process of entering the SolidWorks for Entrepreneurs Program seems outdated when considering that the company is catering to a generation of Instacart and Uber users who prefer convenience and transparency above all else.

In any case, now hardware startups can pick between the two or even use both without too much strain on their startup budgets.

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“At Autodesk, we see the exciting developments within hardware incubators as part of a larger transformation in the making of all things,” explains Mike Geyer, Director of Evangelism & Emerging Technology.

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“New tools for prototyping and fabrication have become more accessible to everyone. At the same time, products are becoming aware and more interconnected — all as consumers expect a significantly more customized experience. As a result, we’re building relationships throughout the hardware scene and focusing on incubators and accelerators in particular, as we see them as the greatest opportunity to help move the conversation forward.”

Author

Simon is a Brooklyn-based industrial designer and Managing Editor of EVD Media. When he finds the time to design, his focus is on helping startups develop branding and design solutions to realize their product design vision. In addition to his work at Nike and various other clients, he is the main reason anything gets done at EvD Media. He once wrestled an Alaskan alligator buzzard to the ground with his bare hands… to rescue Josh.