Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Nova Labs Alum Launches Kickstarter for “The Decadent Minimalist One” Card Wallet

We already know our business card is CRAP!

And now we can suffer even more humiliation at the hands of Nova Labs alum Erik Moon, creator of the Decadent Minimalist One – Aluminum Wallet (DM1).

Like most things, we need a purist with a vision to help us see the light:

I was not satisfied with other so-called minimalist wallets – the idea of taking a beautifully machined metal wallet and pairing it with elastic straps, velcro or rubber bands was offensive to me.

The only way to get a DM1 right now is through its Kickstarter campaign, which launched September 23rd. The campaign was funded after a day and after a week it has raised over $26K!


The DM1 is milled from a solid billet of 7075-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum. It weighs 0.8 ounces and holds up to 8 ID or credit cards. You’ll feel and hear a “click” when cards are inserted to let you know they are secure.

Nova Labs Alum Launches Kickstarter for “The Decadent Minimalist One” Card Wallet

The DM1 is one piece of machined aluminum. There are no screws, rivets, hinges, magnets or clasps.


Each DM1 comes in your choice of 3 colors (or un-dyed hard-anodized finish) and is laser-engraved with two lines of customer-supplied text.

Nova Labs Alum Launches Kickstarter for “The Decadent Minimalist One” Card Wallet

Tough: Hard Anodized Aluminum Finish

Maker Roots

Erik has the prototypical maker at heart, having been a member of Nova Labs. During his time with us, Erik exhibited superior fabrication skills and a passion for great craftsmanship. This maker is most deserving of our support and we look forward to seeing what’s next!

Gaithersburg Hobby Store Reinvents Itself as a Makerspace

GAITHERSBURG — Serge and Viat are father and son team running a small hobby store called Hobby Place in Gaithersburg, MD. Half of the store is a workshop full of vehicle and aircraft models in different stages of completion, a terrain race course mounted on a trailer, and small machine tools on workbenches. Clearly it’s not just a business for them.

I know them from my kids’ Saturday Russian school where they teach engineering and competition math classes. Naturally, I mentioned Nova Labs during one of our conversations, and made a few laser-cut parts (all hail Mongo!) for model cars they were building with the kids. Later, I gave them a tour of Nova Labs and explained what we are and how we operate.

There was an immediate understanding and interest:
“- Wow, a laser cutter!”
“- Hmm, we could have used that CNC router…”
“- Do you plan another class for vacuum forming?”
“- Maybe we should join as members…”

However, it quickly became clear that between day jobs, running the hobby store and teaching, combined with lengthy commute between their place and Nova Labs, membership wouldn’t be very practical for them. Makerspaces are pretty local entities, as we learned.

“- Is there something like Nova Labs near us?”

Unfortunately, no. Not yet, anyway.

“- Then let’s make one!”

The two decided to explore creating a makerspace in Gaithersburg. They have the shop space as the base, skills to share and interest in making. Now they face a classic bootstrap problem: to grow community and membership, you need events and activities, but to organize these, you better know what your members are interested in.

Many questions were asked about what worked for Nova Labs and why. Nova Labs is very open and enthusiastic about sharing what we learned, and one of these things is that kids’ events are always popular, have universal appeal, and make waves. Take-Apart Day probably takes the crown in that area. So they decided to try and run a similar event or two locally to gauge the response. If you are in Gaithersburg area and interested in helping to establish a local makerspace, give these folks some of your attention. The first Take-Apart event is planned on April 19th.

Obviously, they have their own Meetup.

HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: Small Batch Assembly Enables HW Innovation

One of the biggest problems facing makers bringing new hardware products to market is the cost of Printed Circuit Board (PCB) assembly. Due to the set-up costs of the machines needed to place small electronic components on boards, makers have found it difficult to “market test” new products they’ve prototyped.

Among traditional service providers, the result is either that per unit costs are higher than the market will bear, the units are sold at a loss, or significant risks are assumed to achieve scale. This is the central problem Small Batch Assembly has addressed.

Founded by Nova Labs member, Bob Coggeshall, his strategy is to dramatically reduce the costs compared to larger scale service providers and pass the savings on to makers. (Coincidentally, Bob is also credited as the co-author of “sudo”, one of the most famous linux commands.)

Mass Customization

First, he employs a “mass customization” and “no frills” model for PCB assembly, recognizing that makers mostly utilize a common set of electronic components. Think “CafePress for hardware.” By limiting parts selection to a common set of parts, set-up costs can be reduced dramatically.

Check out this video of his Pick and Place machine at work!

Web Interface

A web interface entirely manages the customer experience of engaging a PCB assembly service. Through the interface a customer can upload their board design file, select the parts and place the order.

HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: Small Batch Assembly Enables HW Innovation

Automation of Back-End Processing

Coggeshall has also automated much of the back-end processing interfacing the highly advanced robot, known as a Pick and Place machine with the ordering system.

Overall, these cost savings can be passed on to the makers, allowing small batches of several hundred units to be competitive with the larger scale production runs of several thousand units.

Incubator Lab

Here’s a look inside Small Batch Assembly’s offices currently residing in one of Nova Labs’ incubator labs.

HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: Small Batch Assembly Enables HW Innovation

A look inside Small Batch Assembly, located at Nova Labs.

As Nova Labs’ flagship incubator tenant, Small Batch Assembly has benefited from co-locating at a makerspace. Nova Labs members have enthusiastically volunteered to beta test the service to ensure system bugs have been worked out while getting their custom-designed PCBs assembled. Speaking of bugs, Bob put together a bloopers video of early mishaps involving larger components.

How do you submit an order? Check out this video!

HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: MakerPass Simplifies Makerspace Management

MakerPass is a platform that makes it simple to install and manage access and track usage of space, equipment, and vending services. It is the brain child of Nova Labs Co-Founders Jason Kohles and Ted Markson and solves one of the more difficult problems of managing a makerspace.

The board you see is the heart of the MakerPass platform: the MakerPass Weigand Board. Weigand is a communications protocol that HID Global card readers and other commercial access control products use.

HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: MakerPass Simplifies Makerspace Management

The advantage of the MakerPass platform is that it adds intelligence at each access control point. This eliminates the need for running the Weigand interface back to a control panel, which saves hundreds of feet of wiring.

For instance, if a user requests access to the table saw, MakerPass can make high level decisions to also turn on the blast gate and dust collector. It adds logic at the point of control.

A standard topology connects the MakerPass Weigand Board over UART via RS-485 to a Wifi-enabled “Node Manager” such as a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone Black. The Node Manager would then connect to an internal or cloud-based network to confirm a request against an authentication server.

HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: MakerPass Simplifies Makerspace Management

One Node Manager can manage up to 32 MakerPass Weigand Boards.

Technical Specifications

  • RS-485 full duplex communication (Exar SP491E)
  • Dedicated Weigand device interface
  • 6x Inputs (5V analog compatible)
  • 6x Outputs (5V level)
  • Onboard power 5V regulator for logic

Here is a picture of an early prototype:

HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: MakerPass Simplifies Makerspace Management

The project is available on GitHub.

We’re featuring Nova Labs hardware innovation all this week leading up to NoVa Maker Faire. Stay tuned!

HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: MakerPass Simplifies Makerspace Management


Nova Labs members Bob Coggeshall, Nikolai Teleguine, and Ted Markson are conspiring to produce Nova Labs’ own modded version of the popular Arduino microcontroller.

Currently nicknamed “Blinky ‘Duino”, It will serve as a teaching tool for future Nova Labs Arduino workshops and classes. Modeled after the Arduino Leonardo, it will feature a USB interface for programming and power, and a set of Arduino-compatible I/O pins.



That’s not all. It will also feature a set of 12 blue LEDs in a clock face arrangement. The idea is for users to light the LEDs on the clock face as part of learning how to program the Arduino.

Nova Labs’ “Blinky ‘Duino” will be manufactured by Small Batch Assembly, a member of Nova Labs’ hardware incubator program.

Stay informed on when the next Arduino classes are by joining the Nova Labs meetup group.


Once you get your drone to fly, the next question will inevitably be: how can I quickly add LEDs to it and create an international incident?

Thanks to Ted Marskon, who designed The ArduPilot Mega (APM) LED Breakout Board for the DC Drone User Group, we now know the answer.


The APM LED Breakout Board controls LED strands that indicates “arming” of the drone and GPS lock.

Check out this video demonstration to see how it works.


We’re featuring Nova Labs hardware innovation all this week leading up to NoVa Maker Faire. Stay tuned!


HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: Nova Labs “ProtoBoard” Speeds New Product Development

What do you get when you combine an Arduino, a breadboard, and a standard cpu power supply on one convenient self-contained platform?

You get the Nova Labs “ProtoBoard”, an arduino-based hardware prototyping platform. Designed by Nova Labs Co-Founder Ted Markson, the project has been used successfully by members to develop their own hardware solutions.

The secret to this innovation is bringing together other available technologies and packaging it in a way that makes it more accessible and convenient for users.

HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: Nova Labs “ProtoBoard” Speeds New Product Development

The Nova Labs ProtoBoard features a laser-cut acrylic mounting plate and a cpu power supply interface board designed for compactness. Various voltages most often needed for hardware prototyping are provided: -5V,  -12V,  3.3V,  5V,  and 12V.

HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: Nova Labs “ProtoBoard” Speeds New Product Development

Interfacing the board with a standard computer power supply recognizes that in the DIY community, these power sources are ubiquitous and can easily be repurposed from old computers that most people already have lying around. This lowers the cost and reduces the time of sourcing alternative power sources.

HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: Nova Labs “ProtoBoard” Speeds New Product Development

The Nova Labs ProtoBoard is currently available only in very limited release. Email for more information about getting one of your own!

We’re featuring Nova Labs hardware innovation all this week leading up to NoVa Maker Faire. Stay tuned!

HARDWARE INNOVATION WEEK: Nova Labs “ProtoBoard” Speeds New Product Development

Meet the Maker Behind The Pocket Drone, Now the Largest Drone Kickstarter Ever

With a little more than a day to go, The Pocket Drone is nearing $1 million on Kickstarter. It is now the largest, most successful drone Kickstarter project ever.

Read the full story about T.J. Johnson, the “maker” of The Pocket Drone, and who has ties to the DC maker scene, at MAKE.

Meet the Maker Behind The Pocket Drone, Now the Largest Drone Kickstarter Ever


Control 3D Printer Cooling with the Nova Labs “Fan Board”


Those of you with 3d printers may be interested in the new Nova Labs Fan Board. Read on to learn how the board was created, and how you can get your own!

The Nova Lab Fan Board is a PCB that I designed with a lot of help from Ted Markson, in order to power and control a bunch of fans and other accessories on RAMPS-based 3d printers, such as the MendelMax printers built by Build Group #4.

Ted and I started by coming up with a circuit diagram in EAGLE. The initial design (see schematic below) did most of what we needed, using standard through-hole components. At it’s core, the board receives four PWM inputs (spare outputs not used on the RAMPS board) and uses them to modulate a larger input power voltage. This allows you to turn the fans on and off using G-code commands.


We then took the schematic and designed a corresponding board in EAGLE. In order to prototype the board, we exported it into a set of tool paths using an EAGLE plugin called pcb-gcode. The g-code was used to mill a test board on the Lobo CNC machine at Nova Labs. It took several tries to get the tool height correct and even through-out. Here are a few of the misfires:


Once assembled, the test board was fully functional:


Emboldened by our prototyping success, I then expanded and iterated the design a few times by submitting it to OSH Park, a great place for hobbyists to order small number of PCBs. They operate by combining many orders onto a single panel, greatly lowering the entry cost of making your own PCB. The final board has some additional outputs, and even a few “always-on” outputs, by popular demand.

Fan Board Front

The board is now ready for a bigger production run, and I’ll be ordering all the components and hardware in bulk to create kits that contain everything needed to put together and use one of these boards.

If you are interested in getting a Fan Board, it is $15 for a complete kit (including cabling and hardware), or $6 for the bare PCB. All proceeds from the fan board sales will go towards supporting Nova Labs.

If you are interested in ordering, email me at

Nova Labs Collaborates for “Internet of Things” DC Launch

WASHINGTON — An event poster featuring lovable 80′s alien E.T. declares, “In the future EVERYTHING PHONES HOME.” This set the vision for several hundred people gathered at downtown startup incubator 1776 on August 27th to launch Internet of Things DC.

IMG_1436While the inaugural event featured several speakers and demos, founder and organizer Greg Toth said future events will include workshops, hackathons and community service projects. The event was a collaborative effort between Internet of Things DC, Nova Labs, and the Data Innovation DC Meetup group. The event was sponsored by Rockville, MD-based Hillcrest Labs, which specializes in motion sensing and motion processing solutions.

Greg Toth explains the goals and aspirations of the new Internet of Things DC group.

“We’re bringing together the business, technology and investor communities in the Washington DC area who are interested in building and using the Internet of Things,” Toth said.

Toth emphasized that the DC area is in a unique position because of the convergence of people and organizations involved in technology, entrepreneurship and investment, data analytics, and policy making.

Nova Labs  (Makerspace in Reston)
Highlighting his point, Toth introduced Nova Labs, a well organized and active hardware-focused makerspace located just outside of downtown DC in Reston, Virginia. Nova Labs Co-Founder Justin Leto spoke about how and why the space exists.

IMG_1438“As a country, we’ve forgotten how to make physical things. We need to get back to that,” Leto said.

He recounted how 15 founders sat around a table and agreed to lease a 1600 sqft facility in early 2012 that has since quadrupled its membership and doubled in size. Leto invited those expressing an interest in hardware development to visit the space and learn more about the maker community.

Nova Labs contributed its own IoT demo for good measure with the help of member Brian Briggman. Briggman showed off a prototype of a 3D printer he connected to the internet using a Raspberry Pi.

IMG_1477The solution is the beginning of a 3D Fax machine, which he used to wirelessly 3D print keys that could open the same model of a deadbolt lock used by 80% of residential homes.

While building the solution, Briggman realized that popular deadbolt manufacturers use a simple 5 digit code to indicate how the key was cut. Just by seeing the key or a photograph of the key, someone could recreate the key in 4 minutes using a web app and a hobbyist-level 3D printer.

IMG_1475The goal of the demo was to dampen fears that an IoT home security solution could be any less safe than a common deadbolt lock.

The main presenters included venture-backed home automation startup SmartThings, construction site monitoring startup Deconstruction, the U.S. State Department and business investment and consulting company Tandem.

SmartThings  (Georgetown IoT Startup)

IMG_1444SmartThings CTO Jeff Hagins showed how a robust home automation platform was already a reality. On display at the podium were two lamps he controlled from his smartphone. “The smartphone is the perfect console for the physical world,” he said.

He described a number of scenarios where internet-connected smart devices help in the home.

“It’s important for me to know I shut the garage door when I left the house,” Hagins said.

IMG_1446SmartThings provides open source libraries that allow developers to easily add apps and connect devices to the platform.

“You don’t have to worry about implementing specific protocols — bluetooth, XBee, WiFi. All that is taken care of,” he added.

Noting the size and enthusiasm of the IoT crowd Hagins admitted, “Silicon Valley has nothing like this.”

Deconstruction Inc.  (An IoT Startup in DC/Baltimore)

Deconstruction CEO Brendan Robinson seeks to help builders monitor construction sites for noise and vibration to ensure they’re being good neighbors (slide deck).

IMG_1456As child of the 80s, Robinson diverted a number of times to reference the Ghostbusters and Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal and The Muppets, which he credits for his creativity.

IMG_1457Robinson argues that complex event processing, big data and predictive analytics, and creative visualization need to be combined to maximize the potential of IoT.

“Without services there is no Internet of Things,” he said.

U.S. Department of State (Federal Government)

Brian Nordmann, Director of Verification and Transparency Technologies for the U.S. Department of State is looking for solutions from citizens to better monitor the eradication of weapons of mass destruction (slide deck).

IMG_1462During his talk, “From Lettuce to Warheads,” Nordmann revealed that while other departments are cash-strapped, the U.S. Department of State has the money to fund IoT projects that enhance U.S. monitoring capabilities. Awards could range from $500 to half a million dollars depending on the project.

Tandem (Business advisor and investor in DC)

Tandem CEO Mike McDevitt described some of the challenges founders face when raising capital.

IMG_1464Referencing the A-Team’s John “Hannibal” Smith, McDevitt stressed, “You need to have a plan. The plan has to be detailed to show exactly what you aim to execute on and who is responsible for executing each part of that plan. Having a team of big league advisors with no responsibility is not enough.”

McDevitt added that when he’s reviewing business plans he has two piles: a “No” pile and a “Hell Yes” pile.

The overall message was that raising capital is a competitive process. Having a detailed business plan that shows realistic financials and brings into clear focus how the company will execute on its goals builds credibility for the team. Being up front about intentions and expectations and doing the legwork to find a financing partner that focuses on that area of investment is critical.

Audience Reaction

Le-Marie Thompson (@nettadonna) tweeted: “Hardware Engineers, our time seems to have come, the Internet of Things needs the skills.”

“I learned that the Internet of Things has gone way beyond GPS dog collars.” -Donita Prakash, CEO of Other Division, Inc.

Brent Bovenzi (@bbovenzi) tweeted: “You can now 3D fax something”

What’s Next

The next IoT DC meetup is already being planned, so stay tuned.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an industry moniker describing the use of data-driven devices that are networked together to perform useful tasks ranging anywhere from home and industrial automation to lifestyle enhancement.

Software is out, Hardware is in

The technology is nothing new, but the cost and availability of internet accessible hardware platforms are now within reach of inventors and innovation is flourishing. As a result, investors and entrepreneurs are seeing increased opportunity and lower risk in hardware startups. This positions hardware engineers and makers at the center of the movement.

The Stack

IoT encompasses embedded controllers, sensors and actuators, biomedical devices, compact power sources, wireless networking, mobile and web apps, cloud computing, and large-scale data analytics.

Internet of things DC

Internet of Things DC was formed to bring together the business, technology and investor communities in the Washington DC area who are interested in building and using the Internet of Things.

For more information

On the Web:

Internet of Things DC Meetup:

Contact: Greg Toth – info [at]