Boston's Bolt launches hardware companies

With more than a million dollars in prototyping equipment and a wide range of expertise, Bolt helps launch hardware startups

Watch the first episode in our new series Breakout Startups here.

Tucked away in downtown Boston, Ben Einstein looks for the next multimillion-dollar idea. As the co-founder of Bolt, Einstein -- who wouldn't confirm or deny his relationship to Albert -- is in charge of choosing hardware startups and launching them to success.

Bolt includes office space and a complete machine shop with more than a million dollars of prototyping equipment that the startups can use. Bolt invests in about one company each month and has a portfolio of about a dozen.

"Most of our companies are actually software companies," Einstein said. "They just happen to sell a piece of hardware."

Bolt's machine shop in the basement of the facility includes many of the tools that Einstein used in previous roles as a product designer at various companies. The shop includes a vacuum former, lathe, nearly antique Bridgeport CNC mill, laser cutter, various 3D printers and other tools that would cost too much for a single startup to amass.

While Bolt's machine shop is useful to rapidly prototype hardware, it's not meant to manufacture anything in large quantities. Einstein said that Bolt helps extensively with manufacturing which includes "going to China, thinking through the supply chain aspects and cost."

To help with business plans and product designs, Bolt employs a full-time staff of engineers and designers who have shipped millions of units of product. It also has a community of investors to provide funding for the startups.

Bolt is selective about the companies that it brings on because Bolt itself is backed by investors.

"It's all about finding companies that we believe can be big. So we're taking small ownership in these companies just like any [venture capital] firm and we hope some of those companies will return a significant portion of that capital and then some."

Bolt doesn't work like a formal accelerator with a program and a timeline, he said. "We don't operate like that," Einstein said. The focus is on creating good product designs because "it's much more difficult to distribute atoms than bits."

In our second installment of Breakout Startups we'll take a look at one of the companies that Bolt funds -- a weather startup that is working on a next-generation forecasting tool.

Nick Barber covers general technology news in both text and video for IDG News Service. E-mail him at Nick_Barber@idg.com and follow him on Twitter at @nickjb.

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