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RoboGlobal Insights

At MassRobotics, robotics startups get a critical leg up

By Fady Saad, co-founder and corporate partnerships director of MassRobotics

Robotics is arguably one of the most fascinating areas of development in recent history. As robotics technologies and their applications in the real world continue to evolve and mature, they are bringing comic book fantasies and movie images from the past to life. But taking an idea from concept to delivery is a long and often winding road that can block the path to success for even the most brilliant ideas. It’s a challenge that repeats itself all too often.

For investors, the momentous challenges faced by robotics startups are a loud call to action when seeking exposure to this fast-growing market segment. That call is simple: diversify! While there is no doubt that robotics is on the cusp of altering nearly every aspect of our lives, predicting which companies will rise to the top requires a complex combination of robotics expertise, industry insights, and constant vigilance to monitor the ever-changing movers and shakers. At MassRobotics, our role is to help bring the best ideas to fruition and then let investors decide which companies are tomorrow’s market winners.

Paving the path to success

Imagine this scenario: You’re sitting in the comfort of your own backyard enjoying the summer evening when a neighbor’s drone invades your privacy. At first, it bothers you (a lot!). But soon you start to wonder: how effective could a very small drone, less than 6 inches in diameter, be at pinpointing the location of a dangerous criminal so the police can not only apprehend him, but do so in complete safety? How could the same small drone help navigate air ducts and pipelines to enable safer, cheaper inspections? Your idea seems to have some real potential, but what’s the next step? Without the equipment and the space to develop and test your idea, your own drones will never take flight.

Our global innovation hub at MassRobotics was created to make that next step possible. Serving as the creative home to a growing number of robotics companies (including miniature drone maker Cleo Robotics, which may very well have been conceived in a backyard daydream), MassRobotics is a non-profit organization that helps promising startups create and scale the next generation of robotics solutions. What these companies need to transform their great ideas into reality is a sharp contrast to companies in the dotcom era that were able to build riches with tools as simple as a laptop and a Wi-Fi signal. To give robotics startups what they need to succeed, MassRobotics offers a critical leg up by delivering these three key enablers:

Physical space to incubate and create.

To effectively take an idea from prototype to production, robotics companies need physical space, including everything from simple office space and a fully equipped machine shop, to testing equipment, advanced design software, 3D printers, testing space, access to basic components, and more. Even those startups that are fortunate enough to have the backing of generous angel investors often can’t afford to spend their precious resources on this type of basic infrastructure. That’s where MassRobotics comes to the rescue.

Today, MassRobotics has 36 resident companies at our facility in the heart of Boston’s Seaport Innovation District, including some that are already realizing outstanding success. AirShare is creating solutions for the rapid and safe removal of malicious drones in public airspace. Ava Robotics, a spinoff of iRobot, designs and builds intelligent robots that “comfortably coexist with humans.” BosEagle Surgical is developing surgical robots to assist with endoscopic surgery. Kraken Robotics is developing advanced sensors, software, and underwater robotics for unmanned maritime vehicles used in military and commercial applications. By gaining access to the physical space they need to continue to innovate, these companies are able to design and develop their products more quickly and, ultimately, deliver on their dreams.

Access to potential customers.

The success of any company is rooted in its ability to identify and connect with potential buyers. But building that network from scratch takes time and resources that most startups don’t have to spare. As a robotics hub, MassRobotics helps our residents build these networks in advance, helping to identify their target markets, hone in on a specific niche, and connect with executive leadership at many of today’s top companies who are focused on applying robotics in the real world. Our extensive network includes companies that have been leading the robotics revolution for decades, including GE, Panasonic, FedEx, Amazon Robotics, Autodesk, Lockheed Martin, and iRobot.

A community of innovators.

One of the most powerful benefits MassRobotics offers to its resident companies is a community of like-minded innovators who are all striving to create the next generation of robotics technologies and applications. Social events, demo days, investor open houses, and robotics summits all come together to create a community like no other—one in which the goal is to collaborate, build, and succeed all while having fun making it happen.

While we can’t accommodate every robotics startup seeking space, as our current residents move “up and out,” we’re able to offer space to the next wave of robotics innovators. Already, four companies have graduated from the MassRobotics space, including American Robotics, Autonodyne, Realtime Robotics, and Square Robot. Others are already looking forward to their own graduations. Vita Inclinata, makers of load stability solutions to improve the safety and efficiency of helicopter operations, now has offices in Denver, Seattle, Washington DC, and Estonia. Harmonic Drive is scheduled to open its own US manufacturing facility this summer. Our newest program is built to encourage robotics development for the clean energy field; MassRobotics will incubate, accelerate, and escalate robotics startups creating innovative solutions within cleantech.

Every idea has to start somewhere. For our resident companies, MassRobotics is providing an ideal launch pad to boost their great ideas into action.

About Fady Saad

A 2017 Boston Business Journal 40 Under 40 Honoree, Fady Saad is the co-founder and corporate partnerships director of MassRobotics. He previously served as the strategy, research & business development director of Vecna Robotics and as regional manager of Nokia Siemens Networks in North Africa and Europe. Fady completed his graduate studies at the MIT System Design & Management program. He also advises Rewired on investment of their $100M fund and is a frequent author, speaker, advisor, and mentor in the areas of investing and innovation.


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