Ryan: Thanks for your thoughts and reflections on stagnation of the cottage industry. I've been BPing since the 70's, worked in a BP/X-C ski shop for a few years and led trips semi-pro in the 80's.
I've just joined BPL, been reading Ray Jardine's stuff, etc, because I've always had an itch to do the PCT and AT, maybe a few times each, my 11-year-old is excited to do more hiking with me, and I can't think of a better father-son activity.
I'm technically pretty darn competent (chemical engineer, built my own house and boats, have built my own computers, teach science and math, and can clean up a toxic-waste site with a Home Depot, a Radio Shack, a Grand Auto, and a credit card). And I have a deep pocket so developing a prototype and then knocking out a thousand of them is financially easy.
So why aren't I marketing something better than the Backcountry Boiler (more stable base, a pot stand on top to multi-task off that flame), or actually bring a wood-fired USB charger to market? Because:
1) My day job pays really well
2) My wife's job pays even better
3) I value time with my family more than time spent with suppliers and demanding customers
4) The creative rush for me is mostly statisfied when the garage prototype is done
5) every year I come up with patentable ideas but the fun part is coming up with them, not spending my life in court chasing some guy in Taiwan selling knockoffs on eBay
I've known lots of BPers who made their own UL stuff but never wanted to take it to market. Including people who were doing it in the 1940's.
That said, I am encouraged by what I've just become aware of in the cottage industry. As you mentioned, innovative financing and much greater visibility come through the internet. And because every niche group can develop a virtual community, what you created with this forum helps disseminate new ideas and products much faster (and cheaper) than an REI catalog ever could.
Just as my ability to research the BTU content of a fuel or find a source of titanium sheet metal or aluminum heat exchangers is so easy on Wikipedia. More importantly, if I want to learn how to vacuum bag carbon fiber / epoxy composites or see what others have done with clever stoves, there's youtube.
So to paraphrase Andy Warhol, maybe in the future, everyone will be their own cottage industry for 15 hours - until they make the equipment they wanted to have.