Santa Cruz's Hardware Boom is here. And it is full of pirates.

 
Santa Cruz’s Hardware Boom is here.  Four entrepreneurs representing the surge in hardware startups locating in Santa Cruz County, talked to an audience last night at Santa Cruz Works’ Hardware Boom! Event at Calliope Waterworks. 
 
The panelists – Keri Waters from Calliope Waterworks, Ryan Evans from Inboard Technologies, Sol Lipman of Ya Doggie, and Scot Herbst from Partner Herbst Produkt – were guided by Margaret Rosas of Looker through a conversation about what it is like to launch and operate a hardware startup in Santa Cruz. They offered insights into how developng hardware is different from software. Everyone agreed that hardware is hard.  Going from a concept to a prototype to a product that is manufacturable requires a linear, traditional waterfall-type process, something that is incredibly difficult to intersect with an agile software development process.  Additionally, one small component not even on your radar at the design stage, can end up being the biggest snag in the product development process.
 
Although the focus of the panel was on what it is like to launch a hardware startup in Santa Cruz, the panelists all agreed that choosing Santa Cruz as the place to establish their businesses and develop their products was intentional – the sense of community here, the energy, and the unique spirit of collaboration are what differentiate Santa Cruz from Silicon Valley.  Santa Cruz’s tech ecosystem is different, and so are its entrepreneurs.  “We are pirates here in Santa Cruz”, Keri Waters said. "There is a massive disconnect between Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz", said Ryan Evans. We don’t have the same rules, and as a result we have more opportunities. As Ryan said, “the focus here is on individuals and what they bring to the table – we [at Inboard] have gotten an influx of partners, contractors, people without any equity in the company but who want to see the product succeed”.  Scot Herbst added to this vein of thought, saying “here, you have to be creative about getting what you want because people aren’t right outside your door yet, so it forces you to work as a community”. Keri joined in by stating that “Santa Cruz people are smart, creative, and a little bit weird, but it means that they are well rounded and can talk about something else besides tech….and since we choose to be here, it leads to more interesting projects and companies. Sol Lipman concluded by saying that “we have something special here, unique…we need a lot as startups, but we need to protect it at the same time”.
 
The conclusion is clear: Santa Cruz is different – the sense of community, our pirate-mentality, our collective creativity, and pool of diverse and slightly weird innovators – all make Santa Cruz an ideal place to launch a startup, hardware or otherwise.  
 
Heather Putnam is the Executive Director of Santa Cruz Works. She can be reached at heather@santacruzworks.org