It's with some great glee that Haytham Elhawary will be joining us as Mentor-in-Residence at R/GA Accelerator. Haytham is Director of the Zahn Center at City College, and an important lighthouse for entrepreneurs working in hardware. For everyone in New York's fast expanding hardware community, Haytham needs no introduction. Stay tuned: from time to time throughout this article you'll discover extended cut info on Haytham.
Haytham's first startup company chased after suspended animation technology for use in organ transplants.
A smidge over a year ago, the first of the City's hardware hackers, engineers, developers, entrepreneurs and dreamers became aware of Haytham with the establishment of NY Hardware Start-up and CCNY's Zahn Center. Within days of the new meetup forming, they came a dozen at a time, week after week, day after day until about a year later there are over a thousand strong and growing. The meetups pack the rooms month over month to capacity: Standing room only! Haytham recalls, "There was obviously a latent demand for this kind of thing, and in July 2012 we had our first event with some top notch startups pitching, including Makerbot, LittleBits and Social Bicycles, and about 70-80 people in attendance." New York is and has always been a city of diverse talent and capabilities: engineers, developers, industrial designers, entrepreneurs, investors. All these disciplines have operated on the edges of hardware but without the means to connect until Haytham catalyzed the community.
As I mentioned in my previous post, there is a perfect storm brewing. Multiple independent trends are converging. Crowdfunding, personal manufacturing, open source hardware, local hardware development, quantified self, wearable computing, Internet-of-things, cloud services, big data analytics, and more are bumping up against each other. Most interestingly, the epicenter of the action is most quickly assembling here in New York. Organizations like Kickstarter, Quirky, Shapeways, Makerbot and now the R/GA Accelerator are headquartered right here at the center of the action.
It is possible for a new from-scratch hardware startup today to crowdfund, prototype, iterate, find manufacturers and launch within a year. If we go back just a few years, this would be an exercise in futility. Haytham points out "All of this would be unthinkable just a few years ago, I mean, many of the tools didn't even exist then."
Haytham drops hints in his bios he probably intends for sleuths to eventually discover. He leads a so-called double life as a theatre reviewer for Theasy.
Haytham was kind enough to summarize his philosophy towards hardware startups here:
Diversity of skills and people
- Hardware solutions can rarely be developed by a single type of engineer - unless you're a modern day Da Vinci, even the simplest hardware will require someone proficient in mechanical engineering, aesthetic design, circuit design and electronic component sourcing, firmware and software development, redesigning your hardware to be manufacturable and quality control.
@helhawary declares his love for penguins here.
Access to prototyping tools
- Tools for prototyping can be easily shared, yet there are few places where you can have access to the machines you need to get something going. I often had to do development on the hush at my academic lab, and travel to different places to have access to certain types of equipment, like a mill or a 3D printer.
Haytham feels Americans have a vast underappreciation of soccer, therefore, as program leader of New York's chapter of the Start-up Leadership Program, he made it a point to easter-egg the Motto as: "You'll never walk alone." This happens to be the anthem of Liverpool FC, his favorite soccer club. It also happens to be a Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune.
Seek out mentors
- Experience is everything - get mentors to help you think through your hardware product development. A lot of the skills you need for things like design for manufacturing or sourcing of electrical components are things rarely taught in a classroom, and are often not rocket science either, but things you learn on the job, which can be greatly accelerated (and costly mistakes avoided) if you have the right type of people around you.
We'll end this post with this final fact about the man: Haytham climbed Mt. Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa, and almost died trying. This is likely because he was attempting to do improv comedy while simultaneously belaying. One of these sentences is a truth fact.
So with that, I'm incredibly pleased to welcome Haytham to the R/GA Accelerator and I'm thrilled to be able to work more closely with him now. Best of all, to have his passion and experience brought to bear to help accelerate our startups is something I look forward to. And that's a true fact also.