Delivering innovation through collaboration
The brightest product makers and hardware pioneers at the Central Research Laboratory have formed a partnership with Mouser Electronics to turn exciting concepts into reality.
Just to the west of London, on the site of the old EMI vinyl record factory, lies a unique facility that is bringing the spirit of innovation to life.
The Central Research Laboratory (CRL) in Hayes is the UK’s first purpose-built hardware accelerator and coworking space – where the brightest startups come together under one roof to design, build, collaborate and create.
While EMI’s scientists and engineers at the location once helped develop audio systems such as stereo sound, the CRL cohort focuses on a remarkably diverse range of technologies – from next-generation agricultural field robots to new sustainable building materials made from potato waste.
For each of these early-stage companies, acceptance on to CRL’s accelerator means they benefit from an intensive, six-month programme of hands-on support. This process includes assistance in taking a product idea and turning it into a viable business, guidance on funding and achieving scalable growth. It also provides advice on areas such as how to work through the process of design for manufacture.
Whatever the requirement, the accelerator amounts to an unrivalled package of services to help the next generation of product makers and hardware pioneers achieve their aims.
Collaboration is critical
But none of this activity can take place in isolation. The CRL accelerator is based upon a collaborative ethos, with the startups encouraged to form links with larger organisations that can help them on their journey. One such partner is Mouser, the global electronics distributor, which sponsors the accelerator programme and helps play a vital role in the product development process.
“CRL is a fantastic facility that has a proven track record of growing and encouraging product innovation,” says Mark Patrick, Head of Technical Marketing, EMEA, at Mouser. “That is why we are proud to be a partner on the accelerator programme. As a global distribution company focused on empowering innovation, we have a long history of helping hardware entrepreneurs and inventors reach commercial success.”
Mouser’s support manifests itself in several ways. Firstly, it provides the startups with design tools and resources, enabling them to access the latest technology such as semiconductors and embedded solutions that are crucial to the development of their prototypes and products. Many of these systems and components are brand new to the market and represent the latest in cutting-edge technology.
Secondly, Mouser connects the startups with an extensive network of experts from within its ecosystem of suppliers, who can help them overcome any challenges they might face. This resource represents a talented pool of technically qualified people with a vast depth of experience, providing valuable insight.
And finally, Mouser also provides specific input through open events and workshops, including CRL’s Demo Day, which offers an opportunity for applicants in each cohort to pitch and demonstrate their inventions to potential investors and partners.
Bringing ideas to life
So how does the relationship between the startups and Mouser play out in practice? WarnerPatch - one of last year’s CRL accelerator cohort – provides an excellent example of the value that can be derived.
The company has developed a medical device that predicts disease evolution. Focusing on diabetic foot and wound care, its hardware comprises a wearable wireless sensor that continuously measures symptoms and predicts disease progression, notifying the clinician when the patient is at high risk.
Initially, Mouser engaged with WarnerPatch on product development, helping them identify the right components and suppliers. “As an engineer myself, I was delighted to provide technical support,” says Mark Patrick. “Then it was about relationship-building – helping WarnerPatch connect with the right companies from within our ecosystem of suppliers.”
This resulted in WarnerPatch forming a relationship with Molex, the connector and interconnect manufacturer, to supply connectors suited to medical applications. WarnerPatch then needed help with a PCB design review, so Mouser facilitated a meeting with MicroChip Technology, which could provide such a service. Now, WarnerPatch is talking to another of Mouser’s partners, TTI, assisting with manufacturability and supply chain management.
“WarnerPatch is developing a fantastic product, and together we have forged a successful partnership,” says Mark Patrick. “Mouser has provided a gateway into a world of technology and support that WarnerPatch did not know existed. It has proved highly beneficial.”
Introducing the latest cohort
This year marks the eighth CRL accelerator, with the latest cohort working on an incredibly diverse mix of technologies. Muddy Machines, for example, has produced a new generation of agricultural robots that could help growers manage labour-intensive crops. Starting with some types of field vegetables, such as asparagus, the robots could help automate fieldwork at a time when the farming industry is suffering from chronic labour shortages.
And then there is Yawboard, creating the next generation of personal electric vehicle. Yawboard has put enormous effort in to engineering fun in to their vehicle, more in line with a snowboard than a scooter, whilst providing the user with practical and sustainable personal transport. Throughout 2021, they’ll be working with CRL to further develop their drive train.
“The accelerator programme always delivers an incredible diversity of technology,” says Mark Patrick. “We look forward to working with these start-ups to help bring their innovations to life.”
In addition to the accelerator, Mouser participates in other CRL-led initiatives. These include Boost sessions and workshops run over several days. These events cover various topics, including hardware development and component choices, funding and finance, formulating a Bill of Materials, and design for manufacturability.
“Again, it is about making connections and building relationships, bringing together the start-ups with members of our partner ecosystem,” he says. The 2020 Boost event included contributions from Analog Devices, Molex, Mouser’s parent company TTI, and a UK-based contract manufacturer, WPS. Mark is hopeful the 2021 event will add even more value from additional contributors.
Deriving mutual benefit
Mouser also benefits from the sorts of partnerships developed with the cohort at CRL. It is a symbiotic relationship, says Mark Patrick, where small and large organisations work together to good effect. “We have a history of supporting innovation with groups such as Hardware Pioneers, the CLIK Innovation lab (Turin, Italy) at Politecnico di Torino, the NXP Cup (Germany), plus a host of other smaller sponsorships of individual projects and student teams.
“In each case, we meet some of the brightest young engineers and get a glimpse into where technology is progressing. This aligns with our strategy of being the first to market with the newest components and technologies. We view these relationships as a win-win.”
At CRL, specifically, the future is very bright. The organisation has plans to expand into a 20,000 sq. ft. converted Victorian power station, a stone’s throw from the historic EMI site. This move will treble the number of companies it can support in its programmes and workspace.
“It is an exciting time,” adds Mark Patrick, “We look forward to continue working with CRL in our ongoing support of the innovators of tomorrow.”
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.