Hardware and robots to watch at the HAX IX demo day

An accelerator for hardware and robotics startups called HAX is holding its 9th Demo Day in San Francisco today. Startups pitching investors there span industries from education to agriculture and medicine.

Examples include: FLASH Robotics’ “social robot” EMYS that teaches kids how to speak a new language; Amber Agriculture’s bean-shaped sensors that monitor corn in silos, and help farmers prevent spoilage;  Japet’s “exoskeleton” that promises to relieve back pain; and Beetl’s yard-cleaning, cloud connected robots. (A full list of the companies follows at the bottom of this post.)

Hax was founded and is operated by SOSV, “the accelerator VC,” which just closed a $150 million fund. The program brings the entrepreneurs it accepts to Shenzhen, China for about 15 weeks to learn everything they’ll need to know about prototyping and manufacturing before they launch a product.

While SOSV spins out accelerators to focus on different industries, issues or technologies about every two years, HAX is its longest-running accelerator. The firm, founded by entrepreneur and philanthropist Sean O’ Sullivan, is also the force behind life sciences accelerator IndieBio, mobility and smart cities accelerator UrbanX and others.

Beetl is an autonomous robot that picks up pet waste and other debris in your yard.

Beetl is an autonomous robot that picks up pet waste in your yard.


SOSV’s Duncan Turner, who is the managing director of HAX, said more medical device makers flocked to the program this year than ever before. Hardware innovation from Chinese startups is also on the rise, he noted, so not surprisingly, of 20 startups admitted to HAX this batch 8 hailed from China.

Turner tells TechCrunch, “We do see a lot of things that we wish we didn’t see. Like people keep trying to make very niche and not that interesting drones. And unbelievably, we still get founders applying with generic fitness trackers. There’s little left to do there.” The investor wants to see more advanced manufacturing startups, he said, building robotics and tools that can reduce waste, or automate unsafe and unsavory tasks now performed by humans.

Compared to just a few years ago, Turner said, hardware startups are having an easier time getting their hands on the components and materials they need to get started, and connecting with manufacturing service providers. Crowdfunding and presales processes are also better understood now, making it easier for startups to attract their first customers on platforms like Kickstarter or via their own websites using tools like Celery or BackerKit.

HAX batch VIII demo day at the Folsom Street Foundry in San Francisco.

HAX batch VIII demo day at the Folsom Street Foundry in San Francisco.

What remains challenging for hardware startups is still fundraising. Finding enough capital to thrive after perfecting their prototypes hasn’t gotten easier despite a high degree of interest in hardware among early-stage venture firms. Turner said, “VC’s have seen darlings like GoPro, FitBit and 3DR face significant challenges. Even though hardware is so diverse these days, the struggles those companies are going through can make investors more hesitant. They want to see a huge amount of traction before they invest in even a seed or Series A round.”

HAX generally invests $25,000 to $100,000 in seed funding for a 6-9 percent stake in companies that it admits to its program. SOSV will invest even more in select follow-on rounds led by other investors, and provided startups hit established milestones.

Here is the full list of HAX’s 9th class of hardware startups, with descriptions and URL’s provided by SOSV. 

Artronics– Mobile power solution to make life simpler.
Elephant Robotics– Smart industry-grade robot workstation including a robot arm and computer vision system.
Glass One– The first Screen-Free HUD for any car. Supported by Michelin.
Hisens– An “underwearable” sensor to monitor erectile dysfunction.
M5Stack– Programmable 5x5cm modules for IoT Developer kit
Plecobot– A cleaning robot for building facades and windows.
Secope– Connected breathalyzer with cloud calibration. Supported by Michelin.
Sonicam– A professional VR camera with 3D sound capture.
Amber Agriculture– Sensor and analytics solution for grain systems.
Amper Industrial– IoT energy solution to monitor and diagnose production equipment.
Beetl– Cloud-connected robotics that clean yards, among other tasks.
Bitome– Monitor your hydration with miniaturized MRI technology.
Circadia– Light therapy and sleep monitoring devices to help you work and sleep.
Criam– Automatic point-of-care diagnostic platform for mobility. Detects blood type, subtype and diseases.
Feel– A smart bracelet that recognizes and tracks emotions to help people suffering from depression, anxiety and stress.
Flash Robotics– A social robot that teaches kids foreign language
Frobot– An automated vending machine for fresh frozen yogurt.
Japet– The first exoskeleton for low back pain for relief and rehab.
Maetel– Stretchable fabric sensor using nanomaterial to prevent bed sores.
Mindset– Headphones that read the wearer’s brain activity and adjust to help them focus.
Ray– Non-contact wellness tracker for babies.
Vitali Wear– Smart clothing for better living.
Volt Storage– Safe, durable & low-cost solar power battery for 24/7 energy at home.