Continued from Gauntlet Initiative
Startup Weekend is “a global network of passionate leaders and entrepreneurs on a mission to inspire, educate, and empower individuals, teams and communities” according to their website. More relevant to this story, it is a weekend event were about 50 entrepreneurs ranging in background from design, to program developers, to business. About 20 teams form from this group, each working to build the foundation for a startup in a mere 54 hours. Everyone gets to meet each other the night before at a social event and share their ideas. This helps prepare everyone in team formation for the next night, when all the ideas are heard and voted on. After the first night, all the ideas and teams are formed and off to the races. They have until Sunday to prepare for a presentation explaining the basis for their startup.
I entered the weekend without the intention of competing. My goal was more long-sighted. I didn’t care about the short-term prize as long as work was done to help in the long run. In my mind, that was to develop a website to share the designs open source.
I presented this in a 60-second pitch, and convinced enough people to vote for it to keep it alive. Then, it was time to form teams. Everyone started dashing around like ants. No one approached me, and everyone I approached said no. I kept hearing the same response over and over, “I don’t think I’m the right person, your project seems like too much.”
I was a little disheartened, without a team I wouldn’t be able to participate officially in the event or bring in web developers. I decided I would still stick around and continue to work, feeding off the energy and enjoying the company. I was taking some calls outside, about to head home for the evening, when two guys came running outside. I remembered them both as programmers, one of them being highly sought. They said that they reconsidered, and wanted to join my team.
We started planning. An advantage of Startup Weekend is that the venue is crawling with mentors. One mentor in particular, Wade Foster from Zapier, sat down with us that night to help us plan. After explaining the concept of the prosthetic hand and the open-source community, Wade looked confused. He didn’t understand why we would want to release our designs for free, let alone take all the time to build a social network. He thought the Gauntlet had a lot of potential as a traditional product, and that to build an open-source community around it would be as much work as creating the hand itself. He suggested to run with the idea of a traditional business model for the Gauntlet Initiative versus open source, and see where that got us for the weekend. It was a new direction, but it peaked my interest. For the sake of exploring his advice over the course of the next two days, our group decided to move full steam ahead with that approach. We left the building around 2:00.
Our team assembled early the next morning after a couple hours sleep. You could tell that the place was already becoming home to some people for the weekend. We claimed a corner of the building and started to run with the new direction. We got a poll out to a limb difference community for customer feedback, began researching market potential, and contacting anyone in the field who might talk to us. The plan had changed from working on the social network to proving or disproving that Gauntlet Initiative could work as a company versus open source. I assigned research topics to the rest of the team, while my primary goal was to get as much as the hand printed as possible in order to show at the closing presentation.
Wanting to use the more powerful computers in in the engineering building, I left the team at the venue to continue working on the designs and get my printer working. While I was in the engineering building, I ran into the director of the 3D printing lab who was also a mentor of mine. I told him about Startup Weekend and the Gauntlet Initiative, and my plans for getting the hand printed. He said that he was done with the FDM printer for the week, and that he was going to throw out a bunch of material that was about to expire. He said I was free to use the machine with that material. This was the jackpot. I had used the same model of printer while working an internship at McCarthy, and knew how to operate it. This new printer was leagues above what my person printer was capable of both in detail and the amount it could print, let alone reliability. I called up the team and happily shared the news.
I immediately set up a batch of parts to print, mostly pieces for the fingers. This is when things started to get bumpy. As I loaded the models into the software, it gave an estimate of the time to make them: 8 hours.
This was way longer than I anticipated. They would have to run overnight, and those would just be a fraction of the pieces. Looks like I would be staying up late after all. In the end, I did not sleep for the next two nights.
I continued designing for the rest of the day, primarily working on the palm. The palm in the picture was just a place holder, and wouldn’t actually connect all the pieces together. The palm was the grounding unit of the Gauntlet, and supported all the fingers. This turned out to be a very challenging piece to make. Friends came in periodically to keep me company. I even had a dear friend from my boy scout days visit while he was in town, and we grabbed a midnight Jimmy Johns run. However, my mind was always back in the lab for any short times I was physically outside of it.
The next morning, the last day of the event, my team met me in the engineering building. I delivered the news that the entire hand would not be finished in time for the presentation that afternoon, which did not go well. After convincing them that having the fingers operational would still be impressive, we set about the plans for the day. The other members of the team would work on the presentation while I finished assembly. The second batch (mostly the palm) would not be ready in time for the presentation, but I still wanted to get it in. I was looking long term here. Any parts I could get made on this printer, I would.
With only about an hour to go before the presentation, I returned to the venue. After getting some last minute coaching from mentors, we were ready. I was going to give the presentation alone, since I knew the design best and had the most presentation experience. I was pretty nervous, maybe it was the sleep deprivation. We were about 10th in line. While I was waiting, I ran into a friend of mine from the incubator space who was not able to be there for the weekend. His wife was with him, who had not yet heard about the Gauntlet Initiative. We both explained it to her, much the same way I had been explaining it to people about 20 times a day. That’s when something in my head clicked. I didn’t need to be nervous for this presentation, I’ve already given it every time I explained it to someone. I loved explaining it, people got really excited. I no longer saw the presentation as something daunting, but as an opportunity to share something I was passionate about.
While I was on deck, the presentation in front of me was for a home delivery service for adult recreational protective equipment. Their tag line was, “a package for your package.” I’ll refrain from more detail. There couldn’t have been a worse act to follow up. The presenter had the crowd roaring in laughter by the end of it. As I walked up on stage, he ran back up in order to throw a bunch of “free samples” to the crowd. It was my turn. With the crowd still in a commotion, I nodded to my teammate operating the slide show to begin. A gigantic picture of Ethan came up on the projector, as I explained who he was. The room instantly quietly down; it was evident I had their attention. I explain the device and the reason it was needed. My phone was going off crazy in my pocket during the entire presentation. I would later find out this was from all the twitter notifications I was getting. I ended the presentation by showing the judges the operational finger that had been printed the night before and assembled only hours earlier. I was able to field all their questions, and then take questions from the audience. When my time was up, I was greeted by a standing ovation, the only one given at the event. I even noticed two women in the front row crying. I was ecstatic, it was without comparison the best presentation I had ever given.
When the judging came around, we were awarded second. Since we placed, we were invited to present to a local investor group. I was invited to a bar by some friends, where I would spend an hour celebrating. Then it was back to the grind. The second print had finished and was ready to accept another one. I returned to the lab to make the most of my time with the machine. I stayed up the remainder of the night with the printer, continuing on the design. In the end, I was able to successfully print the finger and suspension system. All that was left was the lever system, and Pandora could do that. I was only a few days away from finishing the first prototype.
Continued in Gauntlet 1.0
Last photo: Heidi Fuhrman
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