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.
In December 2021, the Brevard County Commission awarded up to $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to equip the prototyping lab and install capital upgrades across the Melbourne nonprofit tech incubator, including a new roof.
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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“I think this lab is going to leave a legacy of hardware companies that were able to start, and were able to scale, because of the capacity,” CEO Jarin Eisenberg said.
“Some of these machines cost $60,000, $50,000. You need expertise to run them. No startup can do that on their own. But to be able to access it right in their backyard is just a huge, huge catalyst for them,” Eisenberg said.
“We want them to have easy access to high-quality machines where they can prototype, where they can quickly reiterate, get products into the hands of customers, get that critical feedback, and then connect them to larger manufacturers in the area,” she said.
Equipment will begin arriving on Feb. 16, including large 3D printers that handle nylon, resin and thermoplastic polyurethane. The lab will also feature stations for soldering and circuit-board assembly, laser cutters, a 3D scanner, an oscillator and small hand tools.
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 will the prototyping lab help entrepreneurs? As an example, Eisenberg cited SwiftPaws founder Meghan Wolfgram’s development of the lure-coursing dog exercise system she successfully pitched on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in April, landing a $240,000 investment from star Lori Greiner.
“SwiftPaws needed a small part for her remote controllers. And it would have been very expensive and time-consuming for her to outsource that and do tooling. So instead, we had a mechanical engineer design that part in-house, printed a little over 300 of them, put them in her remotes, and she got out of back-order,” Eisenberg said.
“Another great example is Tomahawk Robotics. When they were just (starting to) print their controller and test it, that’s a really long process if you’re sending it away every time. There always needs to be minor adjustments — and then you’re sending it away again,” she said.
“So what we want to do is bring that all in-house, so that company just walks next door to that prototyping lab: can see it, can touch it, can test it. It’ll be accessible. It’ll be low-cost. And they’ll be surrounded with the expertise,” she said.
Since its 2016 debut, Groundswell’s stable of shared-space companies has generated more than $120 million in venture-capital investments. Eisenberg said Groundswell has nearly 300 members, and the organization is typically engaged with about 35 companies at varying development stages at any given time.
Melbourne Beach venture capitalist Bud Deffebach, who co-founded Groundswell, owns the 2,500-square-foot former pawn shop that will house the prototyping lab. Alertgy, a Groundswell tenant focused on developing a noninvasive wristband that measures blood glucose levels for diabetics, leases the majority of the building.
Muralist Christopher Maslow has added colorful graffiti-styled artwork to the lab walls. He said the imagery hearkens back to the “graffiti vibe” he helped paint inside The Park, Brevard County’s largest indoor skate park that operated from 2007 to 2015 inside a remodeled Babcock Furniture warehouse on Irwin Street facing U.S. 1. The building now houses Groundswell.
“There’s this really sophisticated feel to it. All these machines have the capability to change lives and bring ideas to life,” Maslow said, standing in the lab surrounded by 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. Investors included the Bill Gates-founded Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Inditex, one of the world’s largest fashion retailers.
Groundswell tenant Kalagon announced in September it raised $3.3 million to pursue the world’s first “smart cushion” designed to prevent wheelchair users from developing ulcers and pressure sores.
And Groundswell is now partnering with the North Brevard Economic Development Zone to conduct monthly one-on-one consultations with tech-focused companies in Titusville.
“We are one of the most diverse ecosystems in the Southeast. Our access to capital has only gotten greater and more sophisticated, as our companies have,” Eisenberg said.
“Now is really the time to really pay attention to what’s happening here,” she said.
‘State of Startups’ talk
Groundswell Startups CEO Jarin Eisenberg will deliver a “State of Startups” presentation during a Space Coast Young Professionals networking event from 5 to 7 p.m. March 9 at Groundswell. The address is 2412 Irwin St. in Melbourne.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Groundswell Startups expanding with 3D-print prototyping lab amid boost in investments