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You’ve got a prototype? We’ve got a roadmap

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Anyone can build a prototype, but manufacturing at scale is a bigger, tougher problem. Highway1 has the knowledge, the experience, and the partners to get you on your way.

Irishman Liam Casey has built a formidable manufacturing and supply chain empire with his international group, PCH International. His latest venture is San Francisco-based hardware incubator, Highway1. PCH International is named after the Pacific Coast Highway and recalls a period of time Casey spent in the Bay Area when he was younger.

Highway1, is an incubator focused entirely on hardware start-ups and the problems confronting them. Hardware start-ups are a lot more challenging to grow and scale than are software companies. A minimum viable product, a very important early starting point for software companies' development, do not work for hardware companies. According to Casey, the first ‘good enough version’ does not work for hardware companies. “One screw can put you out of business.”

This is where Liam Casey and PCH comes in. Casey is bringing his expertise in connecting major tech companies like Apple with Chinese factories for the past 18 years. Highway1 hopes to extend PCH’s network to start-ups—offering them access to a massive manufacturing infrastructure in Asia. PCH directly employs 2,800 people in China in addition to tens of thousands of contractors. This manufacturing, packaging and distribution takes place in dedicated facilities in Shenzhen and elsewhere.

“Every day you hear there’s a renaissance in hardware,” says Liam Casey, PCH’s CEO and founder. “So you think, Hardware’s easy! Well, no. There’s a renaissance in prototyping. But manufacturing is still hard.” Casey hopes that with his help hardware start-ups will turn their promising prototypes into viable businesses.

Casey is attempting to bring some of the lessons from software incubators like Y Combinator to high tech hardware companies. Through Highway1 Casey is providing a place to move companies from their idea to a finished product. And it is about more than just taking stakes in the participating companies. Casey believes that if he does his job properly these companies will continue to use PCH services instead of finding factories of their own.

Alongside Highway1 Casey has created PCH Access for more advanced ventures. He has invested heavily in building a central office in San Francisco.

There is a lot of state-of-the-art equipment – including a 5-axis CNC rig, some large-format 3D printers, laser cutters and a digital die-cutter for packaging experiments – which enables his client companies to build and test prototypes. Accompanying all this is a new electrical-engineering suite, with a machine that picks out silicon chips and places them on circuit boards.

According to Wired Magazine this all resembles Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud-computing platform. AWS has revolutionized access to servers for start-ups. Prior to this entrepreneurs had to invest in their own servers, which involved a lot of guess work about how big you thought you could grow and getting this wrong could really damage a company. AWS made all this guesswork unnecessary and offered start-ups great pricing, performance and add on services. Cloud services allowed software start-ups to build and scale products, services, and apps quickly.

The PCH network of factoriesin Shenzen allows the hardware start-ups to go with shorter production runs. This reduces the up-front cost a start-up has to commit. Another benefit of using the PCH network is the ability to ship finished products directly to customers. Casey claims PCH can reach 90% of customers in three days. This cuts down on warehousing costs for hardware companies.

Another benefit of the PCH platform is that start-ups will not need to locate resources and people to live where their goods are being manufactured. This allows founders and employees to focus on other aspects of building their hardware business like acquiring customers, data analysis and marketing.

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