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 product design tools to execute their vision.

Starting a company costs money. Lots of it. After paying rent, utilities, shoestring salaries and other overhead expenses, entrepreneurs often have little left over to invest in design software, let alone industrial equipment and upfront manufacturing costs. To use a Major League Baseball analogy, startups have to spend like the thrifty Tampa Bay Rays versus the cash-rich Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox.

And just as the innovative Rays have discovered, the best tools and processes are not necessarily the most expensive ones.

9 Reasons Why Onshape Saves Startups Time and Money

Although Onshape’s SaaS 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. CAD Cannot Live Alone – No hardware engineer just uses CAD. That’s why Onshape’s next-generation product development platform includes CAD, release management, workflow, real-time collaboration, analytics, admin tools, and an API with more than 50 engineering applications. When Onshape was started from scratch using a cloud database architecture, data management was built in at its core.
  2. No Huge Upfront CAD Investment – With its $1,500 to $2,100 annual SaaS business model, Onshape has enabled companies to start designing right away, without the need for spending $5,000-$6,000 per seat upfront (not to mention annual upgrade and maintenance fees). For the first year, three engineers can be up and running for the price of one. But more substantial savings are realized by reducing the need for high-performance workstations (see below).
  3. No Need for Super-Duper Computers – Old-school 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 even design products from an inexpensive Chromebook.
  4. Built-In Version Control – With Onshape, product development teams 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? Because data management is not a clunky afterthought, there is no need to buy a cumbersome and expensive PDM system.
  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 heightened security risk) of sharing files by email or Dropbox.
  6. Better Protect Your Intellectual Property – Your IP is precious. Otherwise, why are you starting a company in the first place? Onshape’s Sharing feature allows you to securely and instantly collaborate with a colleague, vendor, customer or partner by granting them editing, commenting or view-only access rights to a CAD model. Equally valuable is the ability to instantly withdraw outside access to your designs when a project is over, reducing the risk of unintentionally leaking your intellectual property.
  7. 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.
  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. Do you really want your best engineer being bogged down by IT problems?
  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.

A Snapshot of Onshape-Powered Startups

From carbon-fiber experimental aircraft to powertrain components for electric racecars, Onshape is proving its value as the product development platform of choice for hardware startups. Let’s take a closer look…


The DarkAero 1 airplane is being designed in Onshape, the leading product development platform.

Based in Wisconsin, DarkAero is building an experimental kit aircraft that has a range of up to 1,500 miles – about 50 percent further than the kit planes currently on the market.

“As an aerospace engineer, I’ve worked with NX, Pro/E, and SOLIDWORKS in my career. I quickly realized the advantage Onshape provides for modeling aircraft,” says DarkAero CEO Ryley Karl. “For top-down design, the Multi-Part Part Studio felt much easier and more efficient to me. It makes sense to simultaneously work on the plane’s shell, ribs and structure.”


A pioneer in law enforcement technology, Viken Detection designs its portable x-ray devices in Onshape.

Based in Massachusetts, Viken Detection makes portable x-ray imaging devices that allow law enforcement to more easily find illegal drugs, weapons and contraband in hidden compartments inside buildings, furniture, appliances, vehicles, luggage and other objects.

“Onshape gives me the ability to instantly check on the status of a design,” says Howard Kellogg, lead mechanical engineer at Viken Detection. “It’s helpful for me to stay up to date on a project in real time and provide feedback to the team. We don’t even need to have informal design reviews. We can just see each other’s progress anytime.” (Kellogg is pictured with his product design model at the top of this blog.)

With Onshape’s real-time data management, whenever an engineer makes a change or edit to their 3D CAD model, everyone on the design team instantly sees it. A comprehensive Edit History also records who made what changes and when, allowing the team to return to any prior state of the design at any time.

XING Mobility Image 13

XING Mobility’s “MISS R” prototype is the world’s first electric supercar with on-track and off-road capabilities. XING designs its supercars in Onshape, the leading cloud product development platform that combines CAD, data management, collaboration tools and business analytics.

Based in Taipei, Taiwan, XING Mobility makes electric motors and batteries for trucks, busses, boats and construction equipment.

“From a design standpoint, our battery packs involve complex assemblies with 7,000 to 8,000 components that are replicated and patterned in quite specific ways,” says Azizi Tucker, CTO of XING Mobility. “We have three different engineering teams working on battery design and Onshape’s built-in data management helps us prevent any version control issues.”

“When we were working in our previous CAD system, we were dealing with people sometimes designing things around the wrong version,” he adds. “We used to spend about 50% of our design time on file management. With Onshape, that’s history.”

The examples of Onshape-powered hardware startups don’t end there. For a more in-depth look at why some of the most promising companies rely on Onshape’s cloud product development platform to speed up their time to market, get your copy of our “Product Design Tips, Tools & Processes for Hardware Startups” eBook today.

Or If you'd like to talk in more detail about how your startup can benefit from Onshape, sign up for a consultation here.