Guest Blog by InBIA Featured Member – NextFab
NextFab is a membership-based, tech incubator / workshop and product development center located in Philadelphia. The organization initially began as a makerspace offering collaborative workspace, events, classes, and consulting services, but has since expanded its offerings to include a traditional business incubation and accelerator program. NextFab has been an active member of InBIA for over 2 years and during that time has continued to distinguish themselves as a center of innovation and manufacturing; where people can gain access to information to enhance their competence in hardware businesses enabled by advanced digital design and fabrication technologies/services.
Membership & Impact of Tech Incubator
NextFab’s membership consists of more than 700 members and is supported by a 35-person staff with a stunningly diverse skillset, including woodworkers, metalworkers, designers, electrical and mechanical engineers, marketers, and, of course, an InBIA Certified Incubation Manager. The organization prides itself on being an integral part of Philadelphia’s booming startup ecosystem.
On average, 1500 people a year receive training from NextFab. The depth of the advanced equipment available, flexible work space, and the extensive training offered has resulted in a diverse membership. Today’s tech incubator members include: artists, engineers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, college students, universities, research centers, and more.
Members utilize the available services to learn new skills, practice their hobbies, or turn their ideas into successful products and businesses. NextFab also offers consulting services to outside entities, including major corporations, who hire them to assist with various manufacturing or engineering projects. Depending on the project, members may be recruited to join the project team, which is an excellent way to drive revenue for everybody involved. Todor Raykov, NextFab’s Incubator and Accelerator Manager explains..
“Another benefit of having a co-working space, a makerspace, an accelerator, and an incubator all under one roof is that people from a variety of backgrounds can meet and interact. Thus, NextFab’s facilities foster an amazing cross-pollination of ideas and best practices, which drives economic development in the Greater Philadelphia region.”
NextFab’s tech incubator has helped several start-ups build their products and attract significant outside funding. One graduate is Biomeme, a smartphone DNA analysis firm. Another, Biobots, makes 3D bioprinters and has won several innovation competitions. NextFab’s most recent graduate, Likuma Labs, is behind the Noria Smart Window Air Conditioner, and had successful KickStarter and Indiegogo campaigns that raised almost $2M from more than 3,700 passionate backers.
As an addition to its tech incubator, NextFab launched a hardware accelerator program called RAPID earlier this year. RAPID is a great resource for working professionals, recent graduates, and career changers considering starting a hardware-focused business. The program provides access to NextFab prototyping equipment, training materials, and extensive network of mentors, lawyers, accountants, and manufacturers in the Greater Philadelphia Area. Raykov shares…
“Unlike other accelerators, we don’t take any equity in these companies. Our goal is to help the founders determine if entrepreneurship is the right thing for them at this particular moment in their lives.”
The companies in RAPID’s first cohort are working on problems ranging from door control systems, to water testing platforms and tool tracking systems. Raykov, who is also a Certified Business Incubation Manager, goes on to explain…
“We accept teams that already have hardware prototypes and provide them with guidance and technical training. Our team of engineers, designers, and business experts works with the founders to refine the prototype, create a business model, and launch the product.”
One of the inspirations for this program came when Raykov attended the InBIA International Conference and discovered the benefits of using an accelerator program to select strong teams for a longer-term incubation.
Overcoming Pain Points
NextFab identifies its greatest challenge is getting new companies to stay in Philadelphia once they enter the growth phase of their development. Many entrepreneurs become attracted to more mature entrepreneurial ecosystems in larger metropolitan centers like New York City and San Francisco. However, Philadelphia’s tech scene is becoming more attractive, because you don’t have to compete for funding with a gazillion other startups like you would if you were in Silicon Valley.
To grow and keep high-impact companies in the area, NextFab has helped build strategic governmental and private partnerships that focus more investment and resources on hardware technology startups. Fueling this desired growth is Philadelphia’s unique attractions; both historically as the Workshop of the World and as the leader in a new era of technical entrepreneurship powered by advanced manufacturing.