Business ideas for 2014: Raspberry Pi accessories

The £25 credit card-sized computer is gathering steam and 2014 will see the growth of the start-ups in its orbit

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Available from around £25, the Raspberry Pi microcomputer is essentially a credit card-sized miniature PC, developed by the Startups 100-listed Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Since launch in 2011, it has already sold more than two million units – this surge in sales, coupled with a gathering momentum of press and public interest, means that 2014 is set to be the year it really takes off.

Developed with a strong focus on customisation, the Raspberry Pi is sold without an input device, monitor or even a case, meaning there is ample opportunity for savvy entrepreneurs to sell all kinds of software, accessories and add-ons to complement it.

Starting a Raspberry Pi-related business: Why it’s a good business idea

Already, the microcomputer has been pressed into service as a mobile weather station, a home security system and even a sprinkler control computer – to name just a few uses. The commercial versions of these started life as DIY projects cobbled together with cardboard, copper wire and tape – buy a few units and tinker with them to see what works.

Of course, the Foundation’s original goal was to encourage children to become more computer-literate and gain basic computer programming experience; although this has taken somewhat of a back-seat following the device’s runaway popularity in the hacking community, the charity estimates that 30-40% of the 2.5 million devices in circulation are in the hands of children, constituting a significant  potential market.

Last year, the Foundation partnered with Google to hand out 200,000 Raspberry Pis to schools for free, so a substantial number of educators have their hands on the devices and could potentially benefit from a huge range of educational software and accessories.

Raspberry Pi accessories business opportunities

Although Raspberry Pi was initially created to assist the teaching of basic computer science in schools, the device’s low cost means it is increasingly used as a budget PC alternative for playing movies, basic games and browsing the web. Accessories tend to do well when they fit with the ethos of the device itself; so think low-cost, small and customisable.

There are also potential commercial applications. Remember that the Raspberry Pi’s key selling point is its versatility, so if you have experience of a particular sector that is overly reliant on overpriced, fixed-function computing systems, think about how you could produce a low-cost alternative using the device.

The extremely low cost of the Raspberry Pi compared to conventional PCs also means many companies are seeing joy repackaging and selling it in developing markets. While the devices are relatively easy to obtain in the UK, this is not the case in Kenya, for example, where some companies are selling the devices bundled with a case, keyboard, monitor and cables as a cheap alternative to a PC.

Raspberry Pi told Startups that some distributors were finding they could make as much as $10 profit per unit sold while keeping the retail price low enough to be an attractive proposition for Kenyan shoppers.

When you have settled on an idea, start by producing a viable prototype version using cheap components. Once you have come up with something workable, consider raising the money for large-scale production using Kickstarter or a similar rewards-based crowdfunding site; the relative success of your pitch should serve as a good barometer of public demand for your product.

When selling the accessories, you may state that the accessory is compatible with Raspberry Pi, but you cannot imply affiliation with the Foundation where there is none; for example, you may state that a keyboard accessory is compatible with Raspberry Pi but you cannot refer to it as a ‘Raspberry Pi keyboard’.

Equally, stay away from using the Foundation’s ‘Berry’ logo as only officially-endorsed suppliers may use this on their products.

Who else has started a Raspberry Pi accessories business?

Although the device was only released in 2011, the Raspberry Pi accessories market has turned into a well-developed sector, with a number of established companies operating in the space.

Design company Cyntech already has a strong line in Raspberry Pi products, selling everything from its own quirkily-designed cases to camera mounts, while UK start-up recently smashed a £55,000 funding target on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to produce a low-cost high-definition screen for the device (more than £261,000 has been pledged at the time of writing).

Insider opinion

Eben Upton, co-founder of Raspberry Pi Foundation:

“Historically, most of the well-established companies such as ModMyPi started out selling custom cases as they have a low cost base, moving on to more complex electronic components when they had made some money from sales.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a starting point for new businesses, though, as that sector of the market has pretty well been covered by now.”

“Most of the accessories on the market are targeted at hackers and modders, but I would definitely recommend looking into educational accessories as well.”

“Since 30-40% of Raspberry Pis are going to kids, targeting them as a market makes a lot of sense.”

London-based start-up Kano has produced a £69 ‘starter kit’ for use by schoolchildren containing a colourful case, speaker, keyboard, power plug and operating system: the company recently raised more than £1m in an oversubscribed Kickstarter pitch, suggesting the demand for educational products is certainly there.

Published Jan 2014

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