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Collaboration tools for IoT devs

What happens when online collaboration meets supply chain management? A whole slew of hardware startups.

I've written about the dawning age of the hardware startup. Cheap, fast prototyping and inexpensive sensors have put hardware development in the hands of everyone with access to CAD software and a makerspace.

But prototyping a cool gadget does not a company make. The frequent failures of well-funded Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns to become full-fledged (read: profitable) companies is telling. The devil is in the details, and when it comes to hardware companies, the details are in the supply chain.

So it's no surprise that we're starting to see new services aimed at helping hardware developers connect with experts and suppliers. That's a role that accelerators have traditionally played, but accelerators work by taking a small number of promising teams and putting tremendous resources behind them. A new generation of internet-based collaboration services will open up the playing field--any promising developer will soon be able to connect with suppliers and experts through an online interface that operates much the way that office collaboration tools do.

"A significant challenge for hardware development has been bridging the gap between advancements in online collaboration and innovations of IoT device creators with the outdated practices of the global manufacturing and supply chain industries," says Lucas Wang, CEO of HWTrek, which bills itself as a one stop shop for IoT hardware innovators working to manage their product development, connect with manufacturing and supply chain industry experts, and bring their connected device projects to market.

Companies like HWTrek are hoping to capitalize on a huge trend. The IoT market is expected to reach $1.7 trillion in 2020, up from $655.8 billion in 2014 according to IDC. Meanwhile the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry including electronics original design services (ODM) should expect revenues of $505 billion in 2019. The source of innovation is shifting to small and medium-sized businesses in these industries due to the obstacles of collaboration in the traditional supply chain model.

HWTrek's pitch is that its hardware development ecosystem platform removes these impediments and rewires the supply chain from Shenzhen, where the company has a network of suppliers, to the rest of the world.

The idea isn't new. There's an army of supply chain consultants mentoring promising startups that have opted not to go the crowdfunding or accelerator route. What is innovative is HWTrek's "sandbox" or "ecosystem" approach, which extends the power of collaborative development tools and open wholesale marketplaces like Alibaba to the post-development stage.

It's a service to keep an eye on, and likely not the last we'll see hoping to lower the barriers to entry for hardware companies in startup land. And if you want to see what the next gen hardware gadgets will be, take a look at their Discover page, which highlights projects from developers in the ecosystem.