So you’ve got the next big tech idea. Now what?
It’s a tricky question to answer — especially as the lines between the digital and physical realms of innovation continue to blur. That particular industry (think the Internet of Things, smart devices, and connected everything) is set to explode, but small innovators often lack resources and larger players aren’t often nimble enough to keep up with the Joneses.
That’s where firms like Chicago-based MINIMAL come in. The company partners with organizations large and small to help turn those innovative ideas into reality.
“We love taking risks and challenging convention,” said MINIMAL founder and CEO Scott Wilson. “It's what we live, sleep and eat. We exist to change the game and amplify potential.”
The company launched June 29, 2007 — the exact day the first iPhone was released. Wilson, who was at the time tied up working at Motorola, said he “saw the writing on the wall,” bought his first iPhone on Michigan Avenue, and headed to a coffee shop to get started on what would become MINIMAL.
Since then, they’ve become the creative minds behind some of Chicago’s most exciting young companies. They helped design Carvey (the flagship 3D carving machine and Kickstarter success story produced by Inventables, who have since raised $5 million in funding) and Üllo (a wine purification device that returns wine to its natural, preservative-free state).
“Ideas are very fragile things,” he said. “They can be killed or corrupted easily. There is a reason 90 percent fail. MINIMAL helps significantly de-risk a startup, improve the chances of success and amplify value out of the gate. We are experts at taking the fuzzy front end that many struggle with and making sense out it, creating a narrative that connects emotionally with users, thus ensuring market fit.”
MINIMAL’s work with startups is in addition to some of the work they’ve done for larger partners, with whom they’ve helped build and inform design for products and accessories for gadgets like the Apple Watch and Xbox 360.
Wilson and company began gaining traction just as digital innovation and startups in Chicago were really starting to buzz. Now, he said, hardware is back — and as the worlds between hardware and software continue to converge, so too does Chicago’s opportunity to emerge as a global leader. And though the majority of their designs still fall on the hardware side of things, the opportunities to integrate software applications into physical designs are blooming.
“It’s an exciting time to be in Chicago,” he said.
Despite its name, the company takes a more than minimal involvement in the success of its client. With Üllo, for instance, Wilson said they helped shape just about all aspects of the company, from product and brand to building a website, managing supply chain, and setting up a Kickstarter — in addition to more extra-curricular advice giving sessions.
“The therapy and advice sessions sometimes eclipse the product development and design,” Wilson joked.
For startups, “what they think they need and what they actually need are two different things,” he said.
“It’s always challenging, but it never gets old,” he added. “I gravitate toward the startup world because I feel like you can make the biggest impact there.”
MINIMAL headquarters and Üllo product photos courtesy of MINIMAL.