Software Apps are not the only thing coming out of tech incubators these days. The Bolt Product Incubator in Boston, MA has helped launch over 70 products from innovators in the product / digital tech space. We talk with Chris Quintero about what Bolt looks for in a new product idea, some of their frustrations with US Manufacturing, and how Maker spaces and community tours of factories help spur innovation and product development.
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EPISODE TITLE: Bolt Product Incubator Hub – Chris Quintero
This week we interview Chris Quintero, of the Bolt Product Incubator in Boston, MA. What is an incubator? It is a dedicated space for innovators, inventors, and investors to gather and collaborate on the next great thing. Most are software-based, filled with people at desks typing in code. Bolt is different, in that it helps people with product ideas get them to market. The Bolt Product Incubator has helped launch over 70 products from innovators in the product / digital tech space. Chris Quintero will talk about what Bolt looks for in a new product idea, some of their frustrations with US Manufacturing, and how Maker spaces and community tours of factories help spur innovation and product development.
About our Guest Chris Quintero:
Chris has been with the BPI for six years and graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has always been an inventor and is also active in the Boston Makerspace events. Currently, Chris is in Lagos, Nigeria launching a coding/tech ecosystem. Nigeria has been ranked as the country with the highest number of impoverished citizens in the world. Kudos to Chris for trying to change that.
Chris Quintero – Bolt Incubator
[00:00:00] Mitch: Welcome to another episode of factor, the future.org podcast. This is Mitch Kennedy, your host, and co-founder of the factory of the future dot Org. Today we’ll be interviewing Chris Quintero of the BOLT in Boston. What is a Seed stage venture capital group? And why focus on hardware and physical products. Let’s find out what’s going on up there.
[00:00:26] Mitch: So welcome Chris. Great to have you on the podcast.
[00:00:32] Chris: So I worked for Bolt, which is a seed-stage venture capital firm, focused on hardware and physical products. And in the past, I’ve been a part of a number of different makerspaces and am familiar with the maker, hackerspace, et cetera stuff.
[00:00:46] Chris: We invest in early-stage companies that build physical products. So at any time, we have two to six companies co-located with us and our engineering. And our fabrication shop and we’ll invest in them and then spend the next eight, 12 months doing product development and getting them to their first manufacturing run and hiring extra engineers and building out their technical team.
[00:01:09] Chris: And then often they’ll raise maybe their first seed round of two to $3 million, get their own office. And move out. And so we have an office here in Boston and then another office in San Francisco that does the same thing.
[00:01:21] Mitch: So it’s like an incubator, but you’re actually helping fund them too.
[00:01:25] Mitch: So it’s even like a next generation incubator. Sure.
[00:01:30] Chris: Yeah. Yeah. It’s like a venture capital fund, but we don’t just give them money. We also are really hands-on. And you don’t just sit on the boards but have like engineers that sit alongside their engineers and help them out.
[00:01:42] Mitch: That’s really cool.
[00:01:43] Mitch: It’s fun. A lot of fun. Are you doing a lot of cleantech and green technologies? Are you focused on what are you focused on?
[00:01:51] Chris: It’s going to be it’s about half between B2B and consumer electronics. Mostly within the connected devices space. So companies aren’t necessarily selling physical products, but they’re building businesses enabled by connected physical.
[00:02:06] Chris: So in the consumer space one of the companies does a wifi-connected pet feeder. I have an iPhone app that set schedules and feeds your business. There is centered around pet food. The connected pet theater just enables you to send them food on subscription exactly when they need it. So they don’t have this bunch of stock and also it’s fresh instead of sitting in a warehouse for you.
[00:02:29] Chris: Or like another company more than the B2B space makes these digital tip jars for credit cards. So to tip your barista a dollar or $2, it’s a fixed amount. You just dip your card in and out, and then they’ll charge. Charge you about. Wow. Or there are more industrial companies, one’s more like the weather data and analytics space.
[00:02:49] Chris: They install these weather sensors on cell phone towers across the US. Another company and consumer does the same that floats around your pool and tells you what chemicals you need to add.
[00:02:59] Mitch: I guess we got connected first through the meetup group. That is a hardware meetup. Yeah. And Through, I guess Ben heads that up, right? Or is that the main one?
[00:03:09] Chris: Ben started Bolt and so started the group, it’s mainly focused on helping connect the community here in Boston.
[00:03:17] Chris: ’cause the more people that know each other. The more businesses that are being started that hopefully we’ll find a one day. And also the more information we can disseminate about how to do this correctly, the better will be once they get to us. So just trying to build the Boston community around this.
[00:03:33] Mitch: So I just wanted to run through, we have a five-minute summary of what we’re trying to do. As you may have gathered, it has something to do with manufacturing. So it shouldn’t be totally out of your bailiwick. It’s basically you probably know that in the next 15 years you got 2.7 million manufacturing jobs that are set to turn over.
[00:03:54] Mitch: So our concept here is a collaborative platform for makers, manufacturers, for engineering students, trade school students to transfer knowledge and promote.
[00:04:06] Mitch: Like an online mastermind group. And one of the things that we’re really looking at is you have the people who will have the 30 or 40 years of experience. And they’ve, their experience is hard. One they know which w which way certain machines run, they know which way customers go one way or the other.
[00:04:24] Mitch: We want to help transfer that to the people coming on board who are much more tech, savvy, and much more digital than the people who are leaving the work. Okay. So the solution is first to start out small grassroots just in new England. It’s why I’m talking to you guys. So that, so we’re doing local first and then eventually spread out globally, but with a regional focus, meaning we want people to get a sense of community in these areas.
[00:04:56] Mitch: Very similar to the whole Makerspace movement like it’s real, tangible. It’s going to be an a.org because we’re going to set it up as a benefit Corp. So we can give back to the manufacturing community maybe through scholarships or grants for R and D and it’s going to be a member.
[00:05:14] Mitch: And the idea here is that we’ll have specific zones. For lack of a better word at this point, areas of content such as energy, facilities, manufacturing processes, waste, supply chain technology, and workforce.
[00:05:30] Mitch: And so the idea is not to break it down into like steel manufacturers and paper manufacturers, which is the traditional silo, but to look at what all of those things have in common and try to get people to start sharing across the silos and tracking. Build a community based on what’s common rather than what’s specialized
[00:05:51] Chris: share sharing what specifically?
[00:05:52] Mitch: If you look at energy, for example, you’ve got best practices for different types of machinery that runs through all types of manufacturing, like compressed air systems. You’ve got manufacturing, ideologies, like lean and continuous improvement. You’ve got supply chain issues that people run in.
[00:06:11] Mitch: Such as quality from overseas or timeliness or warehouse storage technology issues across any one of these zones, there’s going to be things that people can share back and forth without giving away top secret info.
[00:06:38] Chris: And doing high volume, it makes sense to go to Southern China and like you engage a firm that just has relationships there and go to a bunch of factories. But most of our companies are doing low volumes and it makes sense to source locally. And we are using whoever has bubbled up, but it’s not an exhaustive list of two who exists and they don’t even necessarily know of each other.
[00:07:01] Chris: We last, our last harder meetup, we had an electronic contract manufacturer come sponsor. And they brought two kegs of beer. Wow. From their neighbors to their facility in Western mass, which is a brewery. Some of their employees also worked at the brewery and they got the Pierce donated.
[00:07:18] Chris: So that was the one that was a lot
[00:07:19] Mitch: of fun.
[00:07:19] Mitch: I don’t know that we’ll have beer virtual beer, but we definitely try to make it as lighthearted and entertaining as possible inspiring. We want people to think of it as a place to go to, to connect and learn things and learn in a fun way rather than, oh my God, I got a test coming up.
[00:07:35] Mitch: I gotta learn something.
[00:07:36] Mitch: So what do you.
[00:07:37] Chris: I’m very familiar with very useful sites like msg.com and our contacts have really strong networks in Southern China. We are less familiar with what the ecosystem exactly looks like on the east coast and new England because it’s so frequent.
[00:07:53] Chris: In Southern China, you’re negotiating with one Contract Manufacturer (CM). It’s 60,000 people. They make their own paint. They make their own cardboard can make plastic bags just to move stuff around. The factory is just massive. And here you’re trying to make a product at a lower volume. And so you’re sourcing from 15 different people and having to manage competitive quotes from your plastics and your electronics.
[00:08:14] Chris: And who’s going to actually put it together occasions and all of this stuff. And it’s hard. First-time people who’ve never done it before, just to figure out what exists and what the options are. And I think even just like a basic directory, which I’ve never found, maybe it exists, but of resources, I’m trying to make an electronics board, just the board, not pick and place either people to talk to, I’m trying to make the repopulate electronics boards.
[00:08:39] Chris: These are the people that talk to. Of who has, what capability would be really interesting. I would love of that. And maybe you can build some type of quoting system into that. The types of all, and also they tend to be like, far away from each other. When we’re in Shenzhen, it’s like you’re talking to one cm and maybe they don’t actually make the tooling for their injection molding.
[00:09:01] Chris: But the shop that does, it’s like across the street. And these little clusters form, but here it’s you have to go drive three hours to go to the tooling place. He was just a map of understanding where these people are that are close to me because a lot of times here in Boston it’s really great to use vocals, but they’re like oftentimes hiding I in the woodwork.
[00:09:22] Chris: And I know a company here called rest devices that make connected baby monitors. So it’s like a onesy that you put on your baby and it tracks its temperature and sleeping activity and whatever. And so you start. Understanding while he slept way better after we did this routine before bed or things like that.
[00:09:42] Chris: And the source, or like electronics from some guy in south Boston and the ones that come from Tennessee and the plastics or this other guy and like New Hampshire. And then they have a little assembly place that they built to get themselves up to New Hampshire, which is right above their lives.
[00:10:00] Chris: So house, but just took them forever to like piece mail, all this stuff together. Because they just had to go out and ask a bunch of people. Who do you recommend? There’s a meetup, another meetup group you may have seen here in Boston called the new England factory tours, meetup.
[00:10:15] Mitch: No, I had not heard of that.
[00:10:16] Chris: They started recently in November and I’m technically an organizer, but I’ve never been to the meet-ups. They’ve organized anything, but they’ve toured four or five factories now.
[00:10:26] Chris: And that’s what the factory is. It’s a great business development thing for them. Cause they’ll have 20 people who are thinking about building something come see what your capabilities
[00:10:34] Mitch: are. Oh, interesting. I like that.
[00:10:37] Chris: So we have like the hardware meetups and at the end of every meetup is a time for anyone from the community to get. I give a quick announcement, 30 seconds. This is where I am and I’m looking for this. So our next meetup just got posted it’s on its online and it’ll be on the 25th.
[00:10:53] Chris: Might be a good occasion to come down and can make the announcement to the people who were there. No one off the top of my head, but I would suggest maybe reaching out to the new England factory tours. Yeah.
[00:11:09] Mitch: I might do that just cause I want to go on tours. Chris thanks for taking the time to chat.