Meet the design company behind some of the country's coolest hardware startups - Philly


Dec. 12, 2014 10:29 am

Meet the design company behind some of the country’s coolest hardware startups

Likuma Labs is a two-man shop based out of NextFab that's designed hardware for Biomeme, Nucleus and New York City's Smart Vision Labs.
Kurt Swanson (left) and Don Pancoe in their office at NextFab.

Kurt Swanson (left) and Don Pancoe in their office at NextFab.

(Photo by Juliana Reyes)

Likuma Labs is a two-man team based at Washington Avenue’s NextFab that’s behind some of the coolest hardware startups out.

  • They designed the hardware component to Biomeme’s smartphone diagnostic lab.
  • Same for Smart Vision Labs, the New York City-based startup that turns the iPhone into an instant eye exam kit.
  • They built the prototype for Nucleus, the buzzy local home intercom company that started pre-selling units this fall.

An industrial designer is not likely to be one of the first employees that a startup hires, the pair said, so Likuma positions itself as a hardware design team for hire. (Its clients own all the rights to Likuma designs.)

Likuma is made up of Kurt Swanson, 31, of Old City, a former mechanical engineer for Boeing, and Don Pancoe, 46, of Bella Vista, an electrical engineer who recently got his master’s in industrial design from Philadelphia University. (Pancoe also coaches Masterman Middle School’s Odyssey of the Mind design team, which we profiled here.) We spotted a flier for their company at BarCamp last month.


Likuma Labs designed the hardware behind Biomeme’s smartphone diagnostic lab. (Photo courtesy of Likuma Labs)

Swanson found Pancoe on the designer website Coroflot while looking for industrial designers in Philadelphia. Their first project was a carafe that keeps liquids cold.


Now, they hope to bridge the gap between ideas and products. The tech world is software-heavy, they said, and many entrepreneurs don’t have the design expertise or the experience to build the hardware they need.

For example, if a startup wants to use the iPhone’s lightning connector, which connects the phone to another device, they’d have to fill out hundreds of pages of regulatory requirements because the technology is proprietary. That’s the kind of service Likuma would provide (and has provided to startups like Biomeme), aside from working on the design of a product.

The average project is about $25,000, they said.


The Smart Vision Labs eye exam device, which mounts on an iPhone. (Photo courtesy of Likuma Labs)

Working at NextFab has been crucial to the business because they didn’t have to raise thousands of dollars to buy 3D printers or modeling software. They can use NextFab’s facilities to build prototypes for their products. It’s also where they’ve met several customers, including Biomeme. (Likuma actually took over Biomeme’s office once the startup moved to its new office in Old City this summer.)

Swanson’s been a NextFab member since the makerspace was in its former University City location and has seen it grow over the years.

“This is where it’s happening in Philly,” he said.

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Companies: Nucleus, Biomeme, NextFab

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