The robotic landscape is thriving, from Amazon’s flying delivery drones to Google’s driverless cars – the robotic industry is a megatrend to watch and ride throughout 2015.
With that said, if our experience is anything to go by, being a robotics start up is hard. Enterprise software and app-based businesses are steering the hungry venture capitalists away from hardware makers in the emerging market towards chasing the next digital global phenomena.
It’s hard but not impossible, as an all-star panel of researchers-turned-entrepreneurs shared their career highs and lows with local robotics researchers at the latest symposium at Harvard.
Beware the valley of death.
Typically robotic startups make the transition from development with a little help from government agencies or early investments from venture capitalists. The Valley of death is known as the uncomfortable gap between initial funding and launch, Navigating this “valley of death” is a right of passage for robotics startups, said Cynthia Breazeal, MIT Media Lab professor and co-founder of robotics startup Jibo. And founders should be prepared.
Breazeal managed to make it through the valley of death through spring boarding off a successful crowd-funding campaign that raised more than $3million. Venture capitalists see a successful campaign as a vote of confidence in the product and its potential commercial value. For robotics products however Breazeal found that the bar is set significantly higher “You have to find investors who are very educated and very interested in that space.”
Location is everything.
The capital (London) is the strongest place to stage any tech campaign outside the US, as the availability of investment to tech start-ups is growing exponentially. Specially focused hubs are also sprouting from Bristol to Edinburgh; these areas are beginning to gain an edge where the talent pools are stronger with students who have multi-disciplinary technology focused skills.
Re-locating to one of these hotspots isn’t everything, as mentioned before, investment can come from anywhere (online crowd funding platforms generating more tech startups than any city in the world), however it is important if you want to build the right teams and take advantage of the most suitable tech focused catapult facilities. Be ready to tap into these networks, as the academia support that flows through them is immense, and one of the most powerful tools you can have at your fingertips.
Don’t wait for Perfection.
“Getting a robot out into the real world and out of the lab as soon as possible is critical for success”, said Daniel Theobald, CEO of Vecna Technologies. “We don’t have to build this perfect R2D2 solution from day one,” he said.
Experienced by the worlds leading tech organisations, problems don’t often arise with new devices until they’re out in the real world. This tendency is only amplified in the robotics market as complexity and groundbreaking discovery reaches dizzying heights. “As long as we keep them in the laboratory, we’re not going to make progress — we’re going to be focusing on the wrong problems until we make that leap,” Theobald said. But there is one exception to this rule, he added: safety.
Take inspiration and pay homage to the Si-Fi industry.
A lot of the worlds pioneering innovators in robotics have talked of their love for sci-fi and how this childhood obsession fueled them through their degrees, research programs and careers.
Robots on the big screen have captured human imagination world over and are a key reason people are becoming more accepting of home robots. “It’s profound the impact that movie has had on our culture” Breazeal said. As the technology once seen on the first generation of star trek starts to creep into our everyday existence, one must question what other futuristic marvels are yet to hatch from an original cult film. So, take note and be inspired by the creativity that comes out of this £Billion industry.