the inventors
Volthub: Connecting the Supply Chain
A new platform for streamlining procurement takes shape.
by Mike Buetow
Supply chain has been the story of the past year, and a new face to the industry proposes to help resolve that by connecting electronics engineers with printed circuit board assemblers.

Vincent Bedát is a mechanical engineer and recent MBA graduate of the MIT Sloan School of Management. He is also founder of a San Francisco-based startup called Volthub. I came across Volthub as part of an announcement of the finalists for the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. That program has various aspects to it, but in short it’s a way to match early-stage teams with industry experts and entrepreneurs, and perhaps gain some seed money along the way. Some of the companies that have been part of the competition over the years include HubSpot and Akamai Technologies.

Bedát hails from Zurich, Switzerland, where he also studied, graduating with a master’s in mechanical engineering from ETH Zurich. He then went on to work at the robotics startup Synapticon in Stuttgart, Germany, as a mechanical engineer and eventually project manager.

In 2019, Bedát came to Boston, where he started on an MBA at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. There, while taking classes, he also developed a concept for a platform to accelerate the rate of innovation in hardware development by streamlining the procurement process. Upon graduating from MIT in June, he has relocated to San Francisco to further develop the company.

Q: Volthub is creating an interface for assemblers and customers, and I want to get into that in a moment. But first, when did you recognize gaps or inefficiencies in the printed circuit board development process?

Vincent Bedát: I think that started very early on, as I started in mechanical engineering to create custom parts. Working with contact manufacturing, I noticed, going from some fancy CAD software back to emailing PDFs of technical drawings, etc., and then having to email back and forth with contract manufacturers to really go through all the requirements before manufacturing can happen, how this process felt very outdated. As a project manager at Synapticon, I noticed how much bigger the issue was with PCBs. You have a huge bill of materials for a board that has to be custom-made, and the assembly process, and a lot of different suppliers that have to come together to create a final product. To see that this interaction was still going on through Excel spreadsheets, PDFs, and screenshots with little red circles showing there’s an issue somewhere was really daunting to me. That’s why, when I started the MBA, I decided to look into the possibility to make this more efficient.
Headshot of Vincent Bedát

Vincent Bedát

Q: So you came to graduate school with that already in mind.

Bedát: Absolutely. I remember the interview process, and I knew I wanted to go into entrepreneurship. I wanted to do something to help solve those problems I experienced in the past, and how exactly to do that was totally still to be determined. Volthub is constantly evolving, getting feedback from the industry and adjusting to it, but the problem was defined from the start in 2019.

Q: Do you have partners or other team members?

Bedát: Luckily, through the MIT program, I have had a lot of colleagues helping me out, whether from class, or advisers who have been helping. We now have two software developers, plus myself, and we aim to have one to two cofounders at the end of this year who have a lot of experience in the industry and a lot of experience with software development. It has been a great combination of a lot of very smart people from MIT, friends from back in the industry, and a lot of companies that I’ve started to talk to that absolutely would love to have a solution like Volthub that are collaborating with me as we get ready to launch.

Q: Just for clarity, the name of the company is Volthub, and that is also what you’re calling the platform?

Bedát: Yes.

Q: Many folks have tried to build the proverbial better mousetrap for matching designers/buyers with manufacturers. Where do the existing systems break down, and what makes Volthub unique?

Bedát: At the very core, what we are currently building is a platform for OEMs that have designed a PCB product to be able to define their project; to define the requirements they expect of the PCB panel; to define the bill of materials, which components to choose, which ones can be chosen by the supplier, which ones are delivered by the customer, which ones do the EMS have to give? All of those small requirements that combine and create a lot of emails and questions back and forth. We created an interface where customers can define all of that and then share the project with their EMS, and once the information is digital, all the companies down the supply chain can efficiently share the information all the way to the component distributors and back to the customers without having to go through emails with hundreds of people cc’d, hundreds of files attached, and very quickly losing track of “which document is the actual one?” The code is a platform to define a project and collaborate within the supply chain.

Q: Would the participants on that platform already know each other and have existing business relationships, or is that an area where you actually might find a new supplier?

Bedát: Right now, we are working with [a system in which] two people know each other who want a more efficient way to collaborate. We have also received feedback from both sides that the desire is there, once a project has been fully defined, if they don’t have a partner yet for that specific project, to find somebody who has the capability to deliver, and the same point of view from any EMS company or PCB manufacturing company: to find potential customers who don’t know about them, and they could find new projects, new valid leads. So, we are building out Volthub to also help find partners.

Q: But it’s more than just a platform for finding a new supplier. It could work in a vacuum where you already had an existing manufacturer and their customer, and they could use this to communicate both with each other and then up and down the rest of the chain.

Bedát: Exactly. Keeping track of the information that has been shared over the years of different revisions, different quotes, different requirements that have been set. This is the core of the platform; it’s a shared project. Based on that, we’re going to establish more elaborate features.

Q: Traceability, of course, is a big deal in data management and a huge thing in this industry. Another is IP security. How do you protect that as this information is getting transferred and shared?

Bedát: It is one of the most essential problems we have to be very careful about. Aside from using the most advanced security tool for any file that’s saved on Volthub or any data that we gather for our customers, we still think the established connection that happens on Volthub will not be between two strangers. There will be a contract between the two that can be done over email first, and we are looking into the way this can be done over Volthub very easily, like an IP or an NDA contract that can be signed by both parties before the project is even shared. But at the core, we are starting with those connections between two companies that already have dealt with each other and already have those contracts in place.

Q: Is it too early to start talking about beta testing and when that might happen?

Bedát: We were very close to launch at the beginning of August. We have a few additional features from those initial beta customers, and now are working on those, but we are indeed looking for more beta customers, OEMs that want to order PCBs or EMSs that want a digital platform to receive inquiries. Any beta testers that want to join may email info@volthub.io, and I will gladly initiate the chat.

Q: A couple of EMS companies today have really focused on having an all-digital platform, a much faster, not just time-to-market, but time-to-quote, time-to-delivery, time-to-exchange-of-information solution. Instead of building such a system in-house, however, an EMS could simply engage with Volthub and get there without having to spend maybe thousands of hours of internal time developing their own platform.

Bedát: That is exactly where we are heading. We want an EMS to be able to do that without needing to hire software developers and leading a software team. That is not within a core business of an EMS. We had those discussions when those OEMs we were talking to said, “We love the interface, but we want that same interface with our preferred EMS.” Now we’re talking to those EMSs. That is really the challenge they have: Should they start hiring software developers and create a software department, or is there another solution? That is the gap that Volthub has filled.

Ed.: This is a transcript of an interview first recorded for the PCB Chat (pcbchat.com) podcast.

Mike Buetow is editor in chief of PCD&F and CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY; mbuetow@upmediagroup.com.