Inside a Tech Lab: How Brooklyn’s Newlab Readies Hardware Startups for Takeoff
Converted from the Brooklyn Navy Yard building, Brooklyn's Newlab is now a place for startups to prototype their ideas, raise funding, collaborate with other inventors, and create.
When people think of startups, especially in the world of hardware, they may first envision California or Boston—but perhaps not New York City. This narrative may actually be far from the truth.
A look at the Newlab, Brooklyn’s center for hardware innovation.
Tucked away in the old Brooklyn Navy Yard lives Newlab, New York City’s very own tech center. Home to more than 900 individual entrepreneurs, engineers, and inventors, Newlab fosters a collaborative community through its membership program and its two team-based R&D studio models: Innovation Studios and Venture Studios.
Representing All About Circuits, I had the opportunity to tour Newlab and speak with Satish Rao, the tech center's chief product officer, to learn more about the organization's backstory and its rise to success.
From Navy Ship Yard to Bustling Tech Center
During the first half of the twentieth century, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was the go-to machine shop for every major ship used in the first two World Wars. However, the facility found itself defunct by the 1960s. Fast forward to 2016 when the site caught the eye of Newlab's founders: with ample space and its original air of frontier production, the Navy Yard was just waiting to be reinvigorated—this time, with a focus on problem-solving technology.
“The integral genesis of Newlab is to bring the idea of manufacturing and building back in a collaborative way that leverages frontier and advanced technologies—and they can do that in New York,” Rao explained.
“The idea was quite literal: if you build it, the talent will come. And that's exactly what happened.”
Situated in a renovated warehouse, Newlab consists of machine shops, offices, conference rooms, desks, and other coworking lab spaces to meet the needs of budding startups.
The Newlab space.
In just five years of operation, Newlab is now considered a central hub for much of the technological innovation occurring in New York City. Newlab currently hosts more than 200 companies, two-thirds of which are hardware-centric (the other third is software-focused), covering fields like advanced materials, quantum computing, robotics, and many more.
A Place for Startups to Collaborate and Create
At first glance, Newlab may appear to be another tech incubator—exchanging space and resources for equity in early-stage startups while never having any real skin in the game. Rao was quick to refute this assumption.
“We're not an incubator and we don't take equity from companies up front. Our incentives are aligned with the startups,” he clarifies. “When they grow here in the building, we benefit. We benefit by being able to invest in them. We benefit by them taking up more space. They become an added value to the earlier-stage companies in the building.”
For Newlab, the name of the game is collaboration: the tech center represents an entire think-tank ecosystem in which participating companies will seek out other Newlab companies for ideas, resources, and development. Newlab often helps to build this network beyond its walls by connecting members with larger corporations or city governments—entities that might be unattainable for a small-stage startup otherwise.
As a prime example of collaboration within Newlab, Tarform, an electric motorcycle company turned to Modern Meadow, another Newlab company for help designing its seats. Modern Meadow creates biofabricated materials and was able to develop a vegan leather used on Tarform's bike seat cushion.
The collaboration yielded a vegan leather seat cushion from Modern Meadow on Tarform's electric motorcycle.
As a testament to the curated environment in the tech center, Newlab only accepts about 10% of the applications it receives. Those selected companies have what Newlab deems transformative technology and altruistic vision, two factors that contribute significantly to the tech center's ecosystem.
10xBeta, an Embodiment of Newlab Ideals
One company that embodies the spirit of the Newlab community is 10xBeta, a product development firm with an emphasis on speed to market. As part of our tour, I had the chance to sit down with Akshay Baweja and Julie McEldoon, both electrical engineers and creative technologists at 10xBeta.
Although 10xBeta has recently declared its primary focus the medical field, the company has historically been a jack of all trades; for instance, previous projects include ventilators (to support COVID-19 patients), wearables, and robotics. The company prides itself on taking on any design challenge, no matter how unfamiliar they are with the technology at the onset.
McEldood remarked, “We specialize in quickly learning, doing our due diligence and research beforehand, and then diving in and going straight into product development.”
Known for their speed, 10xBeta fully designed and shipped these ventilators in only eight weeks in response to the COVID pandemic.
A small team with a passion for hardware and a knack for speed, 10xBeta has directly collaborated with multiple other Newlab organizations. On the value of the Newlab community to 10xBeta, McEldoon commented, “We've been able to have such good and quick access to a bunch of talented people.”
“In terms of collaborations, startups at Newlab are awesome,” Baweja added. “They're very open to collaborations.”
In these ways, 10xBeta captures the mission of Newlab, tackling the challenges of modern society with cutting-edge technology and collaboration.
The Hardware Hub is Gaining Steam
Member companies at Newlab have already raised over $1.5 billion in venture capital.
Innovation Studios, a program that partners with Fortune 500s and civic leaders to help Newlab companies, breaks into several categories to solve problems related to cities, equity, infrastructure, resilience, materials, and the environment. Venture Studio helps founders cultivate relationships with other experienced entrepreneurs, test ideas, launch and invest in new businesses, and eventually scale.
Speaking of Newlab's value to the tech community, Rao remarked, “It's a combination of advanced hardware being applied to really interesting problems. That's happening at Newlab, and that's what's exciting about it.”
Editor's note: This article is the first part of a news series that covers companies and topics related to Brooklyn's Newlab—a facility that All About Circuits toured. Catch up on our second piece discussing the female leaders driving hardware innovation within Newlab and our third spotlighting Amogy, a startup using ammonia as a fuel for carbon-neutral transportation.