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By Darren Garnick  /  October 28, 2015 at 10:00 AM

You have to start somewhere. Even the most successful companies in the world started as an idea. So what separates the smart “kids” in the dorm who built their dream business from scratch from those who keep on dreaming and never act on their ideas?

There are countless factors behind why a hardware startup thrives or dies, but out of the starting gate they all minimally need the professional tools to execute their vision. If you’re bringing a new product to market, that means professional 3D CAD.

Starting a company costs money. Lots of it. After paying rent, utilities, shoestring salaries and other overhead, entrepreneurs often have little left over to invest in design software, let alone industrial equipment and upfront manufacturing costs. To use a baseball analogy, startups have to spend like the notoriously thrifty Oakland A’s versus the perpetually cash-rich New York Yankees.


Although Onshape’s nontraditional business model is aimed at making companies of all sizes more productive, the accounting especially works in favor of startups – saving time and money in ways that might not be immediately obvious. Here’s why:

  1. No Huge Upfront CAD Investment – With a $100/month SaaS business model, Onshape has enabled companies to start designing right away, without the need for spending $5,000-$6,000 per seat (not to mention annual upgrade and maintenance fees).
  2. No Need for Super-Duper Computers – Traditional desktop-installed CAD systems are very compute-intensive and often require the latest souped-up computers to run quickly and smoothly. Because Onshape runs in your web browser, with computations done in the cloud versus on a local machine, you can design products from even an inexpensive Chromebook.

  4. Freedom to Work Anywhere – Onshape accounts are tied to individuals rather than specific computers. CAD users can work anytime on any computer or mobile device,Android or iOS. No more fighting for a shared computer with a CAD license.
  5. Real-Time Collaboration – For the first time, multiple people can simultaneously work on the same CAD model. Designers and engineers can instantly see other contributor’s changes in real time. No more wasted time with delays (or the security risk) of sharing files by email or Dropbox.
  6. Easy-to-Scale Workforce – Today’s companies have fluctuating workforces and need tools that are highly flexible and scalable. Onshape’s SaaS offering allows you to quickly add or drop people from the team for short periods of time – without having to commit to an annual license beforehand. Onshape’s $100/month Professional Plan makes budgeting projects easier and cuts out unnecessary waste.
  7. Built-In Version Control – With Onshape, CAD users always work on the latest version of a design. There are no copies. No more confusion and potential risk of team members overwriting each other’s work. Every minute is precious. Why spend it reworking avoidable mistakes?
  8. More Time Designing, Less Time Managing – Onshape eliminates the traditional CAD hassles of installation, registration, licenses, copying files and other IT headaches. Instead of worrying about how to access their CAD system, your engineers and designers can actually be doing what they are paid to do.
  9. Quicker Time to Market – Just like with filming a movie, the perfect product is rarely achieved in one take. A product launch usually comes after multiple design iterations and prototypes. Onshape’s Branching feature is invaluable when experimenting with design changes. Multiple variations, or branches, of a design can be quickly made without impacting the original model.


Massachusetts-based Grove Labs is gearing up for its first Kickstarter launch on November 3. Co-founder Jamie Byron and hardware engineer Nick Ambrogi (pictured at the top of this blog) recently gave us an up-close look at their aquaponic Grove Ecosystem.

At first glance, the Ecosystem looks like a vegetable garden randomly stacked on top of a fish tank, but the two things are deeply interrelated. The fish waste is processed by bacteria into fertilizer, which is continually pumped into the soil above through tubing. Excess water from the garden is filtered back into the fish tank – and the cycle continues.


Grove is initially marketing its sustainable food-and-pet tower to urban dwellers who don’t have access to outdoor gardening space. But it could prove to be especially practical in areas impacted by drought, like California.

After churning out 5-6 prototypes using SolidWorks, Grove Labs switched midstream to Onshape and produced another half dozen prototypes before arriving at their final design.


“When we were using SolidWorks, and we needed a new iteration – to break out a new set of files that is version 1.6 instead of 1.5 – it took me about an hour to change all the file names and make sure there were no errors when our assembly loaded,” Ambrogi says. “In Onshape, it literally takes 30 seconds. Just click a button, create a branch and you’re off to the races.”

 “The number one thing for us as a startup is that we need to be fast, and it was immediately clear to us that it would be faster to use Onshape,” he adds.

Grove Labs relies on Onshape’s Branching feature to quickly experiment with alternate design changes.

For company co-founder Byron, who prefers to use a Mac, Onshape’s accessibility on any computer has been the biggest productivity booster.

“I’d spend 15 wasted minutes every time I wanted to use SolidWorks,” he recalls. “First, I had to go to the back of the building because we had to have a separate computer that could actually run that program. Then I’d boot into Windows, get into SolidWorks and make sure I’m operating the right file structure. And now with Onshape, I just go online and we’re all set. It has taken a huge burden off our shoulders.”

We’ll be closely following the Grove Labs product launch on Onshape’s Customer Stories page (I’d love to get a fishtank garden for the office). Stay tuned!

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