Clean Robotics team in the workshop at AlphaLab Gear. Image courtesy of AlphaLab Gear.

AlphaLab Gear wants to clear the way for startups with cool new products to work with area manufacturers. And their new program will do just that.

The East Liberty-based hardware accelerator announced the launch of their Manufacturing Module, part of a 38-week program that takes startups with physical products through each step of the manufacturing process. It will also show them how to produce their products cost-effectively, locally and with advanced manufacturing techniques.

AlphaLab Gear managing director, Ilana Diamond, believes the program will help integrate startups into the region’s robust manufacturing ecosystem, which includes everything from industry giants like PPG to research being done at entities like Carnegie Mellon University’s NextManufacturing Center.

“We have the capacity already here,” says Diamond. “We believe this makes sense for the region.”

The module comes during an upswing in domestic manufacturing. A report by the Reshoring Initiative showed that, between 2010 and 2016, more manufacturing jobs returned to the U.S. as opposed to being outsourced to other countries like China.

The first Manufacturing Module group consists of four companies with promising products or ideas. Among them are two AlphaLab Gear alum, the energy-efficient climate-control system company, Hibersense, and Adrich, a startup that creates smart labels to help retailers better understand consumer habits.

Starting next week, the cohorts will embark on a program that consists of two parts. According to the website, the 24-week “product and market validation” portion focuses on customer discovery, prototyping, product iteration and customer traction. The following manufacturing at scale portion will cover areas such as finding a supply chain and designing products so they’re easier and inexpensive to produce.

In addition, cohorts will work directly with more than 20 regional and other domestic manufacturers, who will serve as mentors throughout the process.

Afshan Khan. Image courtesy of AlphaLab Gear.

The program will also draw on the knowledge of Afshan Khan, the manufacturing program manager at Innovation Works. An AlphaLab Gear press release touts the former CEO, who oversaw operations at the building material manufacturer Focal Points Products, as an essential link to experts in production, automation and other technical fields in the Pittsburgh region’s hardware and robotics centers.

“She basically serves as a matchmaking service between startups and manufacturers looking for new customers and markets,” says Diamond.

Applications for the next AlphaLab Gear Manufacturing Module, as well as the AlphaLab Gear Hardware Cup pitch competition, will open on December 1, 2017.

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated...