Pittsburgh-born Hardware Cup startup competition looks to continue global expansion | TribLIVE.com
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Aaron Aupperlee
The company Hachitama pitches its connected cat litter box at the 2018 Hardware Cup on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 inside the Ace Hotel in East Liberty. Hachitama won the Hardware Cup competition in Japan for the chance to pitch in the finals. (Photo by Aaron Aupperlee)

Already the largest hardware-only startup competition in the world, the Pittsburgh-born Hardware Cup is looking to continue its international expansion.

The competition will partner with IEEE to offer more than 160 countries the opportunity to host regional Hardware Cups that could feed the international finals.

Richard Lunak, president and CEO of Innovation Works, announced the partnership with IEEE, which stands for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, during the Hardware Cup International Finals on Wednesday at the Ace Hotel in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood. Innovation Works and its AlphaLab Gear program, a hardware startup incubator in Pittsburgh, started the Hardware Cup four years ago.

The Hardware Cup developed a starter kit that includes a guide for how to plan and host a competition. It will make it available to any IEEE chapter worldwide.

This year, there were competitions in seven U.S. cities and in five countries. The international presence of the Hardware Cup will expand next year. Leah Simoncelli, the competition’s coordinator, said a new competition in Hong Kong is on the schedule for 2019 and the Hardware Cup is talking to potential partners in the Philippines, India, Italy and elsewhere.

In the Hardware Cup, startup hardware companies — that is company that physically make something — pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. Companies first compete in regional competitions, then national competitions before the international finals. The winners from the US regional competitions pitched their companies Wednesday, and two were selected to compete against the winners from competitions in Japan, South Korea, Israel and Brazil.

Somatic Labs, a Phoenix startup, won Wednesday, taking home $50,000 in investment from StartBot, a hardware venture capital firm. Technology developed by Somatic Labs fits into the headband of hats, helmets, hardhats or other equipment worn on the head. The technology delivers haptic signals to communicate with the wearer without using sounds or images.

Shantanu Bala, CEO and co-founder of Somatic Labs, said the technology is targeted at industrial workers, the military and sports.

Velocity Robotics, the Pittsburgh company that won the Mid-Atlantic regional competition , pitched Wednesday but did not qualify for the international finals. Brad Kriel, founder and CEO of the company,gave a one-minute lightning pitch while the judges deliberated during the international finals.

Velocity Robotics makes a connected, robotic miter saw accessory that helps contractors and construction workers cut boards 50 percent faster and more accurately. Kriel said Wednesday that the company was accepted into the current class at AlphaLab Gear.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected], 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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