There’s a growing number of startups out there that are focusing on building new hardware, and that’s an immensely different problem compared to building a software business, in terms of sourcing resources to use to build the products involved, sourcing talent and solving problems. That’s why Natasha Baker founded SnapEDA, a website and community dedicated to helping hardware engineers connect, and helping businesses connecting with them.
Baker was at Disrupt’s Startup Alley this year, showing off her platform, which she says is essentially a Github for hardware. It’s a community based around sharing CAD design for components in circuit boards and electronics, including tools that allow schematics to be downloaded in a variety of formats compatible with all leading CAD programs, and community validation tools that allow users to flag problems with schematics or to verify that they work correctly.
“What we’re trying to do is show people everything they need to know, so data sheet specs, pricing, and availability,” Baker said in an interview, discussing the parts pages aspect of the site. “But our main value add, the thing that hasn’t really been done before is offering CAD files that are convertible to every format.”
Aside from providing crowd-sourced, multi-format exportable design files for chips, SnapEDA also aspires to be a true community for builders and electronics engineers. Part of that is allowing people to vouch for designs and components, but another part is allowing them to build personal profiles on SnapEDA, which lists their community contributions, as well as tags that describe their expertise. The long-term vision is to use those to help connect them with companies who need to find specific talent. Baker says that it’s a big challenge for companies to find the right people to help them design and build hardware, so there’s a big opportunity in becoming a specialist network for that.
“A lot of the startups don’t know where to find designers,” she said. “Or they have designers, but they don’t know where to find the layout engineers [those who actually plot out the circuit board layout]. So our goal is to connect people who are specialized in different areas of electronic design. Electronic design is so niche, but there’s so many specialities even within electronic design.”
Someone needs to provide a central resource not only for connecting these individuals but also for keeping track of what hardware engineers are doing, and which ones are actually qualified to fill the needs of emerging hardware startups.
“We try to aggregate all the actions that people have taken on the site,” she said. “Because just the way that Github has made it so that people look at your online profile before they hire you as a software engineer, we think the same thing is going to happen for hardware.”
SnapEDA also has a manufacturing platform, where they produce their own boards for customers. They have both low-cost options sourced from China, as well as manufacturing partners based in Portland or Toronto for customers who would rather source things domestically.
Startups supporting hardware startups are becoming more numerous as the opportunity expands, with others like Upverter trying to capitalize on this growing movement. SnapEDA has a good model to follow in Github, but we’ll have to wait and see if hardware has matured enough as a startup category to fuel a big need for this kind of product and community. So far, the company is bootstrapped, but Baker says they’ll start looking for funding pretty soon.