Hamburgers, Coffee, Guitars, and Cars: A Report from Lemnos Labs
Maybe your fallback plan in case your Silicon Valley startup goes bust was flipping burgers at McDonald’s? Well, you might want to rethink that. Even this classic refuge for low-skilled workers is about to be taken over by robots, if Momentum Machines has its way.
Momentum is one of four startups emerging this summer from Lemnos Labs, a new accelerator for hardware companies in San Francisco. At the Lemnos demo day on June 6, Momentum showed off its prototype hamburger-making robot, which is expressly designed to displace two to three full-time kitchen workers, thus saving fast-food companies up to $90,000 per franchise per year, or $9 billion nationwide. In a matter of minutes, the machine can grill a beef patty, layer it with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions, marry it with a bun, and wrap it up to go. (I saw it with my own eyes.)
“Our device isn’t meant to make employees more efficient,” said co-founder Alexandros Vardakostas. “It’s meant to completely obviate them.”
At Lemnos Labs, the rapid-iteration, rapid-growth, conquer-the-world mindset typical of Silicon Valley software startups is meeting the world of hardware. You might not think that the startup accelerator model that’s been so successful for Web and mobile startups like Airbnb, Dropbox, or Heroku is applicable to the world of actual machines, which are, after all, a little harder to revise than products made from pure code. But you’d be wrong. After a 14-week course of business training and product development, the four inaugural Lemnos Labs startups shared pitches worthy of any startup at Y Combinator, TechStars, or 500 Startups.
In addition to restaurant automation, the Lemnos companies are exploring areas like street-legal electric shuttles for corporate campuses (Local Motion), a new generation of electric guitars that take advantage of the smartphone revolution (Unplugged Instruments), and helping baristas brew the perfect cup of coffee (Blossom Coffee). Along with their peers at other specialized accelerators, such as Rock Health, Greenstart, and Media Camp, these entrepreneurs are trying to prove that a rapid-iteration mindset and a focus on customer needs can help almost any kind of technology startup get off the ground.
“Silicon Valley has gone through waves of innovation, and we really think hardware is the next one,” says Jeremy Conrad, an MIT mechanical engineering graduate who co-founded Lemnos Labs last year with fellow MIT alum Helen Zelman. Conrad, a former Air Force officer, cites a range of trends to support his belief, include the falling cost of electronic components and rapid prototyping tools. “Capabilities like 3D printing that used to take an entire Fortune-500-company lab and tens of thousands of dollars of equipment, we can now have in our garages,” he says.
Lemnos occupies its own garage on Bluxome Street, a wide alley between Townsend and Brannan Streets in San Francisco’s SoMa area. It’s outfitted with a variety of machine tools and industrial equipment—but for much of their more challenging prototyping work, startups can simply decamp to TechShop, the high-tech workshop about five blocks away. Companies admitted to the program receive $50,000 in return for … Next Page »