Why This Canadian Entrepreneur Chose to Launch a Hardware Startup in an Era of Software

These days, the startup ecosystem is extremely software-centric.

That doesn’t mean hardware isn’t a good space to be in, of course. But hardware entrepreneurs often get strange looks from their software counterparts. They’re just not as common.

That didn’t stop University of Waterloo classmates Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey, and Aaron Grant from founding Thalmic Labs together. Their startup builds a gesture-controlled armband that lets users use the electrical activity in their muscles to wirelessly control their computer, phone, and other digital technologies.

The hardware company, which was raised in the VeloCity Garage at the Communitech Hub in Waterloo, recently raised $14.5 million, the largest Series A round raised by any startup after going through Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator program. All three cofounders say they have a “background of building things,” but software entrepreneurs say that too. So really, why hardware?

“Pure software often has few barriers to entry, so there is a lot of competition,” Lake told Shoplocket. That’s one reason, but not the main one: “The problem we are trying to solve is not a software problem. Trying to connect the real and digital worlds, you need a hardware interface for people to interact with. MYO combines hardware sensors with complex software algorithms that make sense of the information from the sensors.”



Lake points out his team boasts a mechatronics background, which covers software, systems design, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. “I think that ultimately it’s when you combine hardware and software that the real magic is created,” he said, citing Apple as an example of a company succeeding by weaving the two pieces together.

“Anyone in a coffee shop can be writing a web app in a couple days, in a weekend. When you start talking about the really game changing technologies I think that most of them combine the two [software and hardware] in really interesting ways,” Lake affirmed.