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Groundswell Startups is launching a lab packed with 3D printers and high-tech equipment to help fledgling companies build prototype hardware while cutting costs — and reducing reliance on shipping parts to and from China.
The Brevard County Commission granted up to $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds in December 2021 to equip the prototyping laboratory and make capital improvements across the Melbourne nonprofit tech incubator.
Now, Groundswell’s 400-square-foot prototyping lab is taking shape inside an adjacent building, which formerly housed Affordable Pawn & Gun facing U.S. 1.
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Jarin Eisenberg, CEO, stated that he believes this lab will leave a legacy of hardware firms that were able start and scale because of its capacity.
“Some of these machines are expensive at $60,000 and $50,000, respectively. To run them, you need to have the right expertise. This is something that no startup can do on its own. Eisenberg explained that the ability to get it from their backyard is a big, huge catalyst.
She stated that she wanted them to be able to quickly prototype and get their products to customers. They should also be able to get critical feedback from them.
On February 16, equipment will be available, including large 3D printers capable of printing nylon, resin, or thermoplastic polyurethane. Other stations in the lab include circuit-board assembly and soldering, as well as laser cutters, oscillators, and small handtools.
Eisenberg said the ARPA-funded equipment should cost $200,000 to $230,000, and Groundswell tenants Catania Product Development, Jaycon Systems and Anderson Connectivity will provide mechanical-engineering expertise.
How can the prototyping lab benefit entrepreneurs? Eisenberg pointed to SwiftPaws founder Meghan Foxgram’s creation of the lure-coursing dogs exercise system that she pitched on ABC’s Shark Tank. This was a result of her winning a $240,000 investment from Lori Greiner.
SwiftPaws required a small part to make her remote controllers. She could not outsource the work and have it done by a toolmaker, which would have been extremely expensive and time-consuming. Eisenberg explained that the mechanical engineer designed the part and printed 300 copies. She then placed them in her remotes.
Tomahawk Robotics is another excellent example. They were just starting to print their controller. If you have to send it off every time, it can take a lot of time. There always needs to be minor adjustments — and then you’re sending it away again,” she said.
“So, what we want is to bring it all in-house so that a company can just walk next door to the prototyping laboratory: can they see it, touch it, and can test it. It will be easily accessible. It will be affordable. She said that they will be surrounded by the expertise.”
Groundswell’s portfolio of shared-space businesses has generated over $120 million in venture capital investments since its 2016 launch. Eisenberg stated that Groundswell currently has more than 300 members and is often engaged with 35 companies in various stages of development at any one time.
Bud Deffebach, a Melbourne Beach venture capitalist, is the owner of the former pawn shop, which will house the prototyping laboratory. It measures 2,500 square feet. Groundswell tenant Alertgy leases most of the building. They are working on a wristband that can measure blood glucose levels and is focused on creating a noninvasive solution for diabetics.
Christopher Maslow, a Muralist, has painted graffiti-style artwork on the lab walls. The imagery is reminiscent of the “graffiti vibe” he created inside The Park in Brevard County. The park was located inside a renovated Babcock Furniture warehouse at Irwin Street, facing the U.S. Groundswell is now located in the building.
It has an extremely sophisticated feel. Maslow stated that all of these machines have the ability to change lives and to bring ideas to life, while he was surrounded with his artwork.
“So to juxtapose them with this rawness — the rawness of the graffiti and of this street art — it gives it this really unique opportunity to stand out on its own, almost like machines of art,” he said.
The remainder of the $500,000 ARPA funding will go to a replacement roof, capital upgrades and office expansion — Eisenberg said Groundswell’s 14 offices are full and she has a waiting list of prospective tenants.
This summer, Groundswell tenant Circ, a company that developed a system to recycle unwanted clothing into raw materials, received more than $30 million in funding. Inditex, the largest fashion retailer in the world, and Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which Bill Gates founded, were among the investors.
Groundswell tenant Kalagon announced that it had raised $3.3million to fund the creation of the first smart cushion in the world. This will prevent wheelchair users developing pressure sores and ulcers.
Groundswell now partners with the North Brevard Economic Development Zone for monthly one-on-one consulting with Titusville tech-focused firms.
“We are one of the most diverse ecosystems in the Southeast. Eisenberg explained that as companies have grown, our access to capital is becoming more sophisticated.
“Now is really the time to really pay attention to what’s happening here,” she said.
Talk about the “State of Startups”
Jarin Eisenberg, Groundswell Startups CEO, will present a “State of Startups” presentation at a Space Coast Young Professionals networking party from 5 to 7 pm on March 9, at Groundswell. The address of the event is 2412 Irwin St. Melbourne.
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