Curl’s Best Friend was accepted into AlphaLab Gear’s most recent cohort of companies in October. The program is now in its third cycle. Companies get either $25,000 or $50,000 in exchange for 5 or 9 percent equity, respectively, from InnovationWorks, the program’s parent organization. More than 85 percent of AlphaLab Gear alumni companies so far have raised follow-on capital within eight weeks of demo day, the last official day of each cycle.
InnovationWorks created the model based on its earlier AlphaLab accelerator program for software companies. The Gear version focuses on so-called “hardware” companies by contrast, which means companies that have a tangible, manufactured product that may or may not have a software component.
“About five or 10 years ago, things started to change for hardware,” says Ilana Diamond, who leads the AlphaLab Gear program for InnovationWorks. “Open source hardware, 3D printing, TechShop.”
TechShop is a national network of light manufacturing shops that offer memberships to individuals, who, as you do with a gym membership, gain access to hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of design software, 3D printers, and all kinds of light manufacturing machines to help design, build, and test prototypes. TechShop provides training to new members, and only trained members and staff may use the equipment. AlphaLab Gear participants get a membership to TechShop Pittsburgh as part of the program.
Through her TechShop access, Bridgett is working with two engineers. “I’ll … check with my engineers and see what’s going on, understand how things are developing and keeping everyone focused on producing a product that will make people excited,” she says of the relationship.
A review committee of advisers, investors and the AlphaLab Gear team selects companies based on an applicant’s ability to develop and launch a winning product or service, market potential, and the concept’s originality. Companies from all over the U.S. can apply. They have a 5-6 percent acceptance rate.
For Curl’s Best Friend, market potential was easy. The latest estimates on the black hair care market put it at $500 billion.