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Product development firm Dragon Innovation, partner to successful Kickstarter projects like Pebble, prepares to launch its own funding site for connected devices

Posted by Scott Kirsner  January 24, 2013 07:30 AM

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Update: On August 8th, Dragon announced that it had raised $2.3 million for the new site, and began a private beta-testing phase with "several innovative hardware products seeking funding."

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A Lexington product development shop that has helped several successful Kickstarter projects go from concept drawing to finished product is getting ready to launch a fundraising site of its own. Scott Miller, the former iRobot manufacturing executive who runs Dragon Innovation, tells me he is planning to unveil Dragon Launcher sometime next month, with a carefully-chosen set of five to ten hardware products. It's an interesting move at a moment when Kickstarter is introducing new rules about how device-makers can raise money on its site, and when local startups like Bytelight are having projects rejected by Kickstarter without much in the way of explanation.

As a consultancy, Dragon has operated a bit beneath the radar, but Miller, right, spent several years helping Walt Disney Imagineering design a walking triceratops robot, and then more than a decade overseeing engineering and manufacturing at Bedford-based iRobot, maker of the Roomba vacuum cleaner. His firm has worked with Kickstarter projects like the Pebble watch, which raised $10 million on the site, as well as Media Lab spin-outs like Sifteo and local startups like Zeo, which makes a sleep-monitoring device. The firm's expertise is in prepping products to be manufactured, and finding the best contract manufacturers in the Far East to do the work.

With Dragon Launcher, Miller says, "We really want to build companies that should exist — the next wave of disruptive hardware companies." He plans to filter out the "perpetual motion machines and junk" as well as "nights and weekends projects," he says. In Miller's view, creating the next great connected device requires that you quit your day job. Miller and his team will work with inventors to "de-risk projects"; he likes to say that most entrepreneurs working on hardware products just don't know what they don't know when it comes to costs and timeframes.

Like Kickstarter, Miller says Dragon Launcher will take a fee of about 10 percent from the money raised online. But unlike Kickstarter, he says that Dragon Innovation's consulting services will be priced into each project that is raising money on the site. That will naturally increase the amount that the team needs to raise, but Miller asserts that it'll also improve the odds that the project actually crosses the finish line. (Eventually, Miller says he would like to test a way to fund prototypes on the site, meaning that backers wouldn't necessarily receive a product at the end of that stage, but would simply be helping to move an idea along to the point where they'd be able to order it.)

Miller says he may try to raise money for the new site from venture capitalists or strategic investors. Geisel Software of Shrewsbury is helping out on the Dragon Launcher site.

While Dragon Innovation employees so far have operated virtually, in several locations in the U.S. and China, when the Bolt accelerator opens up in Downtown Crossing later this spring, the firm will have a presence there.

(Wired profiled Dragon Innovation last June.)

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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