nScope was developed by Northwestern University alumni Nick Marchuk and David Meyer as a platform to facilitate the teaching of electronics outside a traditional lab environment. The USB-powered hardware and software package effectively transforms any laptop into an electronics workbench, with a power supply, oscilloscope and function generator.
Like many successful crowd-funding initiatives, nScope was originally conceived as a solution to a fairly common problem – how to ensure every student could get a hands-on experience in the lab with limited space and equipment. Marchuk and Meyer decided that rather than buying hardware from other sources, they could get better value for money by designing their own.
The first model was developed in 2010, and every summer the pair revisited the kit to iron out problems and improve the functionality. By 2013 they had reached a point in which they were ready to finalise the hardware, leading to a highly successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $187,000 from 1,706 backers.
“I think our crowdfunding campaign succeeded because we worked on the nScope for about five years before we launched it” says Meyer. “In our video, it came across that we had an authentic project that we were very invested in. Also, we’d already proven that it worked in situ, so there was a lower element of risk, and people could back us with confidence that we knew what we were doing.”
Having achieved their crowdfunding goal, the next step was to secure manufacturing support, which is where Premier Farnell stepped in. After a bad experience with a prior manufacturer, Marchuk and Meyer were looking for a reliable and reputable partner to help productize the nScope design. element14, through its subsidiary Embest Technologies, collaborated with nScope in prototyping, manufacturing and packaging the final design. Embest also helped source and put together an Nscope Lab Kit, featuring a range of components including wire strippers, cables, resistors, capacitors, op-amps, logic chips and other essentials.
“The interesting thing about running a Kickstarter is that as soon as you get funded, you start getting contacted by a lot of people offering to help with manufacturing, marketing and retailing your product” says Marchuk. “Trying to figure out who’s the real deal can be quite confusing.”
“At the same time, we did know that we needed support on those things. When we were contacted by element14, we already knew that they had an excellent record for manufacturing. That they had offices in Chicago was also great for us, because we could meet up face to face and really develop a relationship. When it came to issues like discussing costs, finalising design and working on packaging together, it was really valuable. We’d never manufactured anything at this scale before, so having a company like element14 approach us and prove so easy to work with really helped us to fulfill our Kickstarter orders and move forward.”
Both Marchuk and Meyer have other jobs running alongside the nScope project, meaning they primarily see the initiative as a learning resource rather than a full-time business. A freely available online curriculum built around the device is currently in development, and plans are underway to incorporate the equipment into Raspberry Pi and Arduino-based programs at universities across the United States.
“In 3-5 years we hope to see a lot of schools starting to adopt nScope and use them regularly in all of their classes. “ says Marchuk. “We want to develop an online curriculum that’s freely available, and centred around, but not dependent on, the nScope. We don’t want to prevent anyone from learning if they want to learn.”
“element14 already does a lot in terms of getting electronics out there to more people, as demonstrated by their work with manufacturing the Raspberry pi. I think we fit pretty well into that model too.”
To find out how Premier Farnell could support your start-up initiative, get in touch with us at www.element14.com/startups