HARDTECH Basecamp IncubatorTM

It is a long, arduous journey to turn an idea into a commercially viable product. We know, we’ve done it, both for our own portfolio and for many of the 50+ clients that we have served. We have been doing it for the last 25 years resulting in more than 30 patents and innumerable products launched. We have the experience and the resources to help you push through design, development, testing and sourcing for manufacturing.

What is “HardTech”?

A typical incubator or accelerator provides office space and mentoring mostly for software development. They help aspiring entrepreneurs with market analysis, financial modeling, and pitch development to gain seed and angel funding. We on the other hand, provide a nurturing environment and the equipment, space and engineering mentorship dedicated to designing and building the “hard” physical innovations of this world, things like:

  • Linear motor driven subsea safety valves
  • The Mars Rover power board design
  • Swimmer rescue rebreathers
  • Cataract removal technology
  • The connected railcar, IA Certified sensors and gateway
  • Downhole motors driven pumps
  • Black water recovery system (Wall Street Journal Technology Award)
  • Next generation broiler for a major food chain
  • Automated, smart tie-down for the US Navy hovercraft
  • Harmonic drives
  • Sensors and the accompanying communications and computer controls for all of the above
Once the initial prototypes are built and tested, companies will utilize our 25 years of commercialization experience to help with what Thomas Edison called the 99% Perspiration part of innovation, which is bringing a product into the marketplace.

Who are we?

PCDworks, the founder and driving force behind the HardTech Base Camp, is an innovation think tank situated on top of a secluded, pine-covered hill in East Texas. For the past 25 years we have developed innovative solutions for 50+ companies across 90 HardTech projects. We have more than 30 patents either issued or in process. Projects span from renewable energy to waste water processing transportation medical, oil and gas, food processing, military and consumer projects. Our diversity is our strength. We own parts of four companies that were developed through these HardTech projects, and have experience and expertise in electrical, mechanical, software engineering, material science, mathematical and multiphysics modeling. We also conduct testing and certification up to IA, Intrinsically Safe UL levels. We have extensive Design For Manufacturing (DFM) expertise and have coordinated manufacturing and sourcing work in China, Romania, Germany and the US. This broad, diverse experience is what allows us to help startups get their product to markets fast.

How the BaseCamp works

A Base Camp is a camp set strategically on the mountain so that the bold souls that dare to aspire to the summit have a place to prepare themselves and their gear for the journey. The Base Camp does not get you to the top of the mountain, but instead prepares you for the trials ahead, de-risking your venture to ensure success. Your team will housed and fed on an 80 acre campus in the quiet hills of the Piney Woods of East Texas, free of distraction, able to work in an equipment rich environment on your project with PCDworks innovation mentors, engineers and tradesmen available 24/7. Your team will be housed in a comfortable guest house on the PCDworks campus where you will live and eat with the founders and other entrepreneurs as family to foster team building and nurture the creative problem solving effort. The entire experience is designed to focus the spirit of creativity and accelerate the project to the next stage.

The facilities available include a machine shop work space, office space to continue to work on the “paperwork” part of your project, and conference rooms for team meetings. There is a gym and a game room available along with 8 guest rooms with private bathrooms and queen size beds. The nearest town is Palestine, Texas which is about 20 miles south.

A quick look at the process and the timing

The process is one of intense collaboration from Day 1. At a minimum, you will come with a broad understanding of what the product will do, what problem it solves, what initial market research shows, initial customer reactions, financial models of what it must cost and what it will sell for, and a very clear picture of the channels that you can use to get the product into the hands of the end user.

During the ensuing six to ten week period, we, with you will focus on the technology of product and the prototypes, protecting the IP of the product, methods of testing the product to ensure reliability and safety, and how to get the product sourced, certified and into distribution. Of course, as the “HardTech” part is proceeding, parts of the team will still work on improving and proving the feasibility of financial, market and methods of distribution. Educational content has been developed and can be provided as needed. Timing can be tailored to the capabilities of the class and provided when and if appropriate.

Week 1. Planning / Immersion. Client team members are paired with PCDworks mentors to clearly define the problems and hone in on specifications. This week culminates with a two day Immersion Session with PCDworks mentors and outside experts to plan the approach to solving the problem, provide specifications, build a plan, allocate resources. Then PCDworks will understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Client team and appropriately plan an educational process to fill in the knowledge gaps as necessary.
Class: Innovation, Knowledge creation, “Knowing”
Class: Mathematical Modeling
Class: Planning
Class: Patents, Trademarks
Class: Safety

Week 2. Preliminary Design, Feasibility of Preliminary Design. What is the hardest problem to solve, how you are going to solve these problems?
Class: Design Thinking
Class: Quick and dirty electronic fabrication
Class: GD&T
Class: 3D printing, tips and techniques.
Class: Working with Tradesmen
Class: Welding
Class: Machining, Mill work, Lathe work

Week 3. Final Design. What can be locked in and drawn up? What parts can be ordered? What is the construction plan? Class: Sourcing electronics
Class: Sourcing metal and plastics
Class: Certification-UL, CSA, MetLabs
Class: Construction Materials

Week 4. Design Resolution and the beginning of construction. Class: Injection Molding, Forming
Class: Material Safety
Class: Instrumentation Design, Reliability Testing, Lifetime testing
Class: Finishes and Finishing

Week 5. First prototype testing. What did we learn, what do we change? Final design resolution.

Week 6. Final Prototype design and fabrication. This is where the rubber meets the road. The classes disappear and work goes on distraction free.

Week 7. Instrumentation for Testing To know success, rigorous testing is required. Testing for reliability, to failure, for efficiency is required. All of this is best known using proper instrumentation and testing procedures. Note that the plan for testing starts much earlier, but this is where all of the software and hardware is integrated and completed.

Week 8. Final Testing. It all comes together during final testing. If things don’t go perfectly, and they rarely do, your stay will be extended until we are all satisfied with the results.

It’s all about feasibility, reducing risk

Gaining knowledge to reduce risk is the most important goal for new product development. Our 22 years developing and delivering innovation have taught us seven key aspects of feasibility that must be examined at each stage of the product development process to ensure a successful product launch.

  1. The compelling product must have fit, i.e. a home in an existing market with easily discernable competitive advantages over the competition.
  2. The product must be financially viable. In the end, it must make money. It has to be able to be built with the feature required, for a price that a customer will be willing to pay for it. In addition, you must have a techno-economic analysis complete and have already have been through a seed round.
  3. The product must have sales and distribution channels identified and/or developed. How is it going to sell, and through what mechanism? You must have a way to get the customer to be aware of it and to buy it.
  4. What is the technology, what does it do? Has the root technology been used before, or is it new to the world. How do you know it is reliable, or will it require a specialized manufacturing process or does that have to be invented as well?
  5. It must be “makeable”, through what process, what materials? Are the manufacturers available only in China or the U.S.? Are the parts to be made simple or do they require a skilled machinist, can you take advantage of the latest manufacturing process?
  6. How will you protect it? Will you have patents or will you get the product to market faster than others can copy? Is there a provisional patent in place? Is it possible to build a patent “fence” around the product, or its implementation methods?
  7. What of regulations? What entity is going to govern its use or distribution? Will it require UL or FCC testing? Will it be used in an explosive environment? If battery powered, what kind of chemistry will you be using? Do you understand the difficulty in even shipping Lithium Ion batteries?

HardTech BaseCamp will propel you through key aspects four through seven above, but aspects one to three should be well understood and the fundamental feasibility established before applying to and attending BaseCamp.

Intellectual Property

In the 25 years of doing innovation engineering, we have rarely worked on a project in which we did not create IP for a client. In cases where the client is paying fully, as in work-for-hire, the client clearly owns the IP. In some cases, we have partnered with the client such that we will own a portion of the company, but grant royalty free rights to the company for the use of the patents, for some period of time. In the case of incubated groups we have a hybrid relationship in which the IP is assigned to the startup and we take an agreed upon small portion of ownership in the company or be granted a SAFEnote which can be converted to ownership at a later date. The key is to ensure that the “cap table is protected” so that investment can easily flow into the startup as the funding rounds proceed.