A Hardware Renaissance Grows in Brooklyn — and Elsewhere

New Lab, a public-private partnership, opened the doors to the 84,000-square-foot space last June. It now hosts 80 companies across a range of industries and in various stages of development, but they typically have three to 20 employees.


StrongArm Technologies, a start-up in Brooklyn, makes “ergo-skeleton” back support belts.

Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

On Thursday, New Lab announced that 14 of its companies, including StrongArm, are joining an urban technology initiative with the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The goal is to generate technology for urban challenges ranging from traffic congestion to local food cultivation.

“We want them to not only make technology in New York, but to deploy it in New York City,” said Alicia Glen, New York’s deputy mayor for economic development.

That you don’t have to be a giant company to have a good hardware idea has been evident for years at Maker Faire events, where inventors showcase their homemade engineering projects. Last year, more than one million people attended Maker Faire events worldwide.

Enthusiastic amateurs can matter a lot in technology. Hobbyists led the personal computer revolution, before it morphed into a huge industry.

“The maker stuff is great, but the key to having a real impact will be entrepreneurial companies and ones that can scale up, generating revenue and jobs,” said William Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But progress in hardware — the messy physical world — tends to take longer than in the digital-only realm of software. For a decade now, cloud computing and open-source software have drastically lowered the cost of starting a software company. So the number of software start-ups has surged.

Now, it seems, is the time for hardware, where a similar phenomenon is getting underway. It is helped by the software trend, but it is really driven by new hardware tools like 3-D printing and laser cutters as well as low-cost, open-source hardware that allows for rapid prototyping that accelerates the pace of development.

The hardware start-ups tend to be clustered in urban settings like San Francisco, Boston and New York. The Urban Manufacturing Alliance, a nonprofit community development organization created in 2011, now has about 550 members representing more than 150 cities.

There are signs that manufacturing employment in cities has stabilized, and is reviving in places. After steadily declining for three decades, the number of manufacturing jobs in New York increased by 3,000 from 2011 to 2015, to more than 78,000, the most recent figure available.

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