On May 6 judges at the AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup finals heard pitches for a kitchen appliance that cooks meals, a mouth guard that warns of a potential concussion, a drone that delivers medicine and more.

But it was a home energy intelligence system that captured the $50,000 grand prize.

Curb, of Austin, Texas, a device that connects sensors to a home’s circuit breaker box to monitor electricity usage and reduce energy costs, was pitched by its founder and CEO, Erik Norwood.

“Curb is really focused on helping people get control over their electricity bills so the $50,000 is going to help us get our product to market faster and with a broader reach,” says Norwood. “There is a lot that goes into building a hardware company, as I’m sure many in Pittsburgh are aware, so this will enable us to broaden our reach of Curb so that we can help more people get a better understanding of their bills.”

As the first ever national hardware pitch competition, the contest partnered AlphaLab Gear and TechShop, the do-it-yourself fabrication studio with locations nationwide. It started in February with regional competitions in Detroit, Washington, D.C., Austin, Phoenix, San Francisco, San Jose and finally last month in Pittsburgh.

The national finals were held at AlphLab Gear’s facility on Broad Street.

Along with the $50,000 – from venture capital firm StartBot – Curb also won product design software and other prizes from software partner Autodesk.

“The goal is to raise the profile of hardware startups around the country to investors. It can be a doorway to further local and national recognition,” says Chris Milland, AlphaLab Gear program manager.

In 10 quick minutes, representatives from each company informed the panel of judges about their test marketing and potential target clients. They answered pointed questions about marketing claims, product efficiency, manufacturing, packaging and distribution.

Erik Norwood of Curb pitches to the judges at the AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup
Erik Norwood of Curb pitches to the judges at the AlphaLab Gear National Hardware Cup. Photo by Foo Connor.

“I practiced this pitch hundreds of times in front of family, friends, advisors and mentors … my favorite part of the pitch was demoing the product and showing off how much something like a little space heater can cost,” says Norwood.

The judges – Tom Jones of Draper Triangle Ventures; Josh Lin of RPM Ventures; Craig Asher of Vital Venture Capital LLC; Paul Cousens of Autodesk and Josh McElhattan of Startbot – looked at each product’s market potential, cost effectiveness and the team’s core technological ability to deliver the product, says Milland.

“Really, it’s the most investable business,” he adds. “These teams all have really big ideas and are working on them full-time.”

Pittsburgh-based AlphaStroke won the $1,000 Pittsburgh regional prize that also landed them a yearlong TechShop membership, Fusion 360 software and support from Autodesk.

AlphaStroke is a device that helps EMTs or paramedics identify a stroke patient so they can go directly to an appropriate hospital, saving valuable treatment time and transportation costs. The prototype is due to be completed in June, says CEO and Chief Medical Officer Matthew Kesinger who pitched for the national prize.

He says even though his team didn’t win the grand prize, the competition increased visibility for his young company.

“There were a lot of people in the audience I was able to network with. There were organizations that could help with manufacturing, people running other competitions and others interested in mentoring,” he says.

Laurie Bailey is a freelance writer who has reported for many local publications. When she isn't writing she serves as a media consultant for nonprofits and other local companies.