Nathan Harding’s journey into the world of innovation began with a simple childhood curiosity. From his early years in Houston, he found himself captivated by the art of deconstructing and fixing things.
Little did he know that this innate curiosity would pave the way for a groundbreaking career that would span the realms of mechanical engineering, robotics, and even the beauty industry.
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Bridging Gaps Through Education: From Houston to Berkeley
Leaving his Midland days behind, Nathan’s upbringing in Houston shaped his early experiences. As he spent his time exploring the suburbs and playing near Buffalo Bayou, he developed a natural inclination towards mechanical tinkering.
This fascination with mechanics led him to pursue mechanical engineering as a natural progression. Graduating from Carnegie Mellon was a significant milestone for Nathan, yet he felt a sense of unfinished business.
Driven by his relentless pursuit of knowledge, he recognized that there were missing pieces in his education. This realization prompted him to seek further studies at Berkeley, where he honed his expertise and deepened his passion for mechanical engineering.
Navigating Industry Shifts: Lessons from Berkeley Process Control
Nathan’s journey took an unexpected turn when he joined Berkeley Process Control, a company renowned for assembling an extraordinary team of brilliant minds.
This experience introduced him to the realm of machine controllers and designing intricate machines. However, the dynamic nature of the capital equipment industry became apparent as unforeseen market shifts shook the foundation of the business.
Lessons learned during this period emphasized the unpredictability of demand and the importance of adaptability in the face of market changes. Nathan’s experience at Berkeley Process Control reinforced the notion that innovation requires the flexibility to pivot and embrace new challenges head-on.
One of the main challenges Nathan faced was when the bottom fell out of the optical fiber market. This was quite a setback since 80% of his company was mainly about optical fiber manufacturing equipment.
At the lowest point, he realized that he couldn’t even sell the spare parts of the machinery they owned.
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Empowering Innovation: From Exoskeletons to Breakthroughs
With a tenacious spirit and a thirst for progress, Nathan ventured into the world of exoskeletons. His involvement in groundbreaking research at UC Berkeley led to a breakthrough that would revolutionize power consumption in exoskeleton technology, bringing it to market with Ekso Bionics.
This achievement demonstrated the transformative impact of innovation and the potential to reshape industries. The newfound possibilities with exoskeletons sparked Nathan’s journey into creating a business around them. He started by experimenting with 3D printing machines he acquired from a colleague.
Leveraging grants from government organizations, he embarked on a mission to bridge the gap between human capability and technological advancement, shaping the future of human augmentation.
An interesting development was Nathan’s licensing deal early on with Lockheed Martin to develop the military’s access to exoskeletons. He acquired funding worth $40M, which included non-dilutive capital for his project before taking it public.
Although they experimented with the idea of soldiers using the equipment, the real breakthrough came when they found that their exoskeletons could help in the medical sphere. Strapping on the suits allowed paralyzed and partially paralyzed patients to get up and start walking again.
Eventually, they brought Ekso Bionics public and peaked with a market cap of $600 million.
Hardware Ventures and Entrepreneurship: Balancing Patience and Potential
Navigating the realm of hardware startups presented unique challenges, given the longer timelines and the ever-present demand for rapid returns.
Nathan acknowledges the allure of software unicorns but highlights the potential for hardware-focused venture capitalists to identify promising opportunities. His story underlines the need to recognize the value of patient investment in industries that require more time to flourish.
Crossing Boundaries: The Convergence of Beauty and Technology
Nathan’s entrepreneurial journey took an unexpected turn when a casual conversation led him to the beauty industry.
Curiosity sparked his exploration of integrating robotics with beauty services, ultimately leading to the creation of LUUM. This innovative beauty tech company aimed to enhance lash extensions through automation, reshaping traditional practices, and introducing technology to a new realm.
Augmenting Human Abilities: LUUM’s Vision for Ethical Innovation
LUUM’s approach to robotics reflects Nathan’s commitment to ethical innovation. With a focus on safety and precision, Loom’s machines augment the capabilities of beauty professionals rather than replace them.
By prioritizing client well-being and the enhancement of human skills, LUUM sets a precedent for responsible technology integration. The machines incorporate technology like robotics, image processing, and AI to ensure maximum safety and excellent results.
Nathan has successfully raised $15M for his company, attracting the interest and attention of venture capitalists, angel investors, and crowdfunding platforms.
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Nathan Harding’s remarkable journey is a testament to the power of embracing curiosity, continuous learning, and adapting to change.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- A childhood fascination with deconstructing and fixing things set the stage for a journey into mechanical engineering and innovation.
- Recognition of the gaps in education leading to the pursuit of further studies at Berkeley, which exemplifies commitment to continuous learning for personal and professional growth.
- Experience with Berkeley Process Control revealed the unpredictable nature of capital equipment demand and the need for adaptability in the face of market changes.
- The discovery of power-saving breakthroughs in exoskeleton technology highlights the potential for innovation to reshape industries and create new possibilities.
- Showcasing the potential and challenges of hardware startups and demonstrating the value of patient investment despite the allure of rapid returns in software.
- Pivot into the beauty industry, exemplifying the power of cross-industry innovation and the potential of technology to revolutionize traditional sectors.
- Focus on safety, precision, and augmenting human capabilities, offering a blueprint for ethical and impactful robotics applications.