Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to take part in the selection committee for New York’s Next Top Makers (NYNTM), gaining a deep understanding of a number of innovative businesses vying to play crucial roles in our community’s next generation of economic development. Now entering its third year, NYNTM is an incubation program of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) that aims to connect innovative new maker movement businesses with local production, in order to build growing companies that provide 21st century jobs and skills, while supporting next-generation manufacturing infrastructure.
The maker movement itself represents the convergence of the digital and the physical – from 3D printing to robots and wearable technology. As many have noted, this deeper appreciation for the physical aspects of technology holds the promise to turn more people into makers of things, not just consumers of things. In addition, it holds importance for re-shoring of manufacturing jobs to the United States and offers great promise in terms of how young children learn new skills.
One of the fantastic attributes of NYNTM is that a wide range of startups will be invited to participate in the program’s events in the coming months, but as 2015-16 NYNTM Fellows, these six particular standouts will receive in-depth mentoring and access to key Microsoft resources:
- StrongArm Technologies is deploying exoskeletal wearable devices to prevent serious injuries to factory workers and other blue-collar laborers. As StrongArm describes itself, it produces “the first on-body answer to musculoskeletal injuries related to lifting that accumulate $60Billion in workman’s comp claims in the U.S. each year.”
- Thimble delivers maker starter kits to a customer’s door on a monthly basis. Many people across the country are intrigued by the maker movement, but those same people are often intimidated by it or simply don’t know where to start. Thimble removes those barriers to entry, by providing customers with both ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes to create connected hardware. For example, customers can use one particular Thimble kit to build a basic wifi-connected robot.
- blink blink is designing creative circuit kits specifically to appeal to girls, in order to address the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Born out of Parsons School of Design and having gained popularity through grassroots marketing at New York Tech Meetup and elsewhere, blink blink kits are made with empathy for 8-18 year old girls, providing a fun and welcoming path toward an inclusive maker movement.
- Dog Parker is a technology-driven solution for the problem many dog owners face when visiting a store or restaurant that doesn’t allow pets inside. Dog Parkers are subscription-based single-occupancy doghouses on the sidewalks in front of popular stores that are “[Radio-frequency identification (RFID)] lock-enabled, temperature controlled, and webcam-monitored,” allowing pets to wait safely while enabling their owners to fuel the local businesses that are so important to New York neighborhoods.
- FlexTraPower is developing a turnkey smart clothes solution. Initially focusing on temperature-sensing clothing – and the mobile applications that will make understanding the data a delightful, seamless experience – in partnership with major brands, FlexTraPower envisions its embedded flexible graphene temperature patches assisting couples in understanding their fertility cycles better and helping parents monitor sick toddlers from afar.
- Beyond Sight is developing haptic feedback-assisted devices that can help users – from drivers to the visually-impaired – with simple wayfinding cues that allow them to keep the rest of their senses focused on the task at hand. According to Beyond Sight, for all the good they do, mobile phone usage has now surpassed drunk driving as the primary cause of car crashes. In response, Beyond sight has used haptic motors to “tap” the left side of a driver’s arm to indicate that she should turn left and envisions this as the tip of the iceberg in terms of product applications.
As you can see, the 2015-16 NYNTM Fellows represent the full spectrum of the maker movement – wearables from early stage to later stage, educational maker kits, assisted wayfinding, and more.
At Microsoft, we are always on the lookout for how people are using new technologies to empower themselves and their communities. Clearly, the maker movement will play a central role in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the 21st century. With innovative people, next-generation manufacturing infrastructure, supportive public policy, and key programs like NYNTM, New York City is poised to remain the beating heart of this growing, diverse, and impactful movement.
Let’s make it so.