When Nils Roeder quit his research position in order to gain more industry experience, he joined forces with Joe Halliwell, another Artificial Intelligence entrepreneur, and the two have never looked back. Edinburgh Robotics is a software developer for robotics and intelligent systems. Their aim is that the finished product will be the platform software for all robotics in every industry. Currently in talks with major consumer electronics companies and car manufacturers, the company intends to supply platform software for robotics, from artificial intelligence in-car entertainment and satellite navigation systems, to vacuum cleaners and Robotic toys. For further information on Edinburgh Robotics Ltd Telephone: (0)131 472 4741 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.edinburghrobotics.com For further information about LAUNCH.ed Telephone: 0131 472 4755 Email : email@example.com Website: www.launch.ed.ac.uk “Be prepared for everything to take so much longer than you had anticipated. If you anticipate something will take two weeks to complete, give it four. It’s really important to manage your customers’ expectations to not make promises you can’t keep.” Nils Roeder, Edinburgh Robotics Ltd. What motivated you to start up a company? Joe and I had always wanted to be self employed and working in IT and there were a lot of opportunities to start up your own business in the field. I had been working with a Joe on various projects and we both had an idea for something that could become a product for a company, so we decided to give it a go. The motivation behind us having our own company was the freedom in deciding what work we would do and how we would do it. How did you go about it? I was working for the university as a researcher and a professor mentioned ERI, ETTC and the facilities there to help students start up a company. So I contacted Grant Wheeler, the incubation manager, who told me about the SMART award which myself and Joe applied for. We were also put in contact with the Braveheart Investment Group who matched the SMART award funding. Grant helped a lot with filling out all the paperwork and with getting in contact with Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Executive etc. He also gave us information about the amount of help available from the University and from ERI etc, and that was all we needed to start up Edinburgh Robotics What were the biggest challenges you faced? One challenge we faced was where to get the funding from to start up a business, and continued funding still remains a problem to us. The way Braveheart and Business Venture Capital work is this, they fund a company according to how much success they have had with a particular business plan. So as long as we achieve our objectives, we continue to be interesting to potential investors and increase our chances of continuing investment. But there’s always a risk at the end of the year that funding will stop so we are not in a situation where they can guarantee to still be in business next year. A lot of their potential customers look for that kind of stability in a supplier and it’s not something we can offer and from our side we need the funding to continue with our work. So continuing investment has to be the biggest challenge. How did you overcome these? By working together with our investors to ensure our applications were in on time and by knowing what to expect from them. They give us the requirements needed to ensure we receive the funding and a lot of effort goes into researching and applying for any grants available. We received lots of support in our research and there’s lots of support for development and innovative ideas. What does your business do? Edinburgh Robotics is a software company, who design software for robots. Robots being loosely defined as anything that has any given amount of computer driven sensors, for instance a vacuum cleaner could be a robot or an automated fork-lift and they all require a different piece of software to enable them to do the task they are needed to do. Finding the correct shelf for a parcel for instance, or of a vacuum cleaner, avoiding objects as it cleans a floor or sensing when the floor is clean. Or maybe intelligence for a vehicle’s in car entertainment system or Sat Nav. Edinburgh Robotics provides a common platform for all of these systems. So a programmer could use our software as a basis to develop any other software for the applications just mentioned without having to create a different path for each. So all of the common elements of these applications are extracted into one platform and they would have a head start without having to start from scratch, without having to re-invent the wheel. So it saves a lot of time re-writing software components. It would also make it possible for third parties to develop applications on top of theirs to then sell to other manufacturers. So Edinburgh Robotics is a middleware software developer. Who are your customers? We have no customers as yet, but we have been talking with a range of potential customers in the various sectors of robotics, from the entertainment industry and manufacturers of robotic toys to manufacturers in the light domestic industry and makers of vacuum cleaners. Potential customers are also companies who produce system guidance vehicles for warehouse automation and the automotive industry. What College are you from and at what stage in your education did you decide to start a business? I studied here at Edinburgh University in Informatics, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. I did a Bachelors and afterwards became a research associate for two years working in research labs. I decided to start a company, rather than do a PhD because I was more interested in some industry experience than in an academic career. How has your business grown and what are your future plans? We started up eighteen months ago when we received a Smart:Scotland award and matching Braveheart funding. Six months ago we hired four people to take us forward from the prototype to the product and we’ll spend the next six months contacting the people we think may be interested, gathering more market information and hopefully at the end of the year we’ll have an outlook of how the company can evolve, which markets are more suitable than others, and what we need to change or to develop, How did you fund your business? We were given a Smart:Scotland award and matching Braveheart funding. Braveheart gave us two rounds of funding, the second being two hundred and fifty thousand which we are currently trying to match up with money from the Spur Award for further development of the product. We also had some funding from Investor Readiness and will be able to apply to Braveheart again at the end of the year for the third and final round. We have also applied for various grants but have yet to hear the results of their applications. How much have the ERI team helped with the formation of your company? ERI and particularly Grant have been incredibly helpful. He made the Smart application possible by giving us all the information they needed about writing the actual application even as far as assisting with the actual writing. Without the Smart application we could never have gone to Braveheart and got the money. So he helped initially with the funding and provided us with the facility to have a proper office thus enabling us to start up the company. What advice in particular did you find invaluable and would pass on to other entrepreneurs? Focus is very important when staring up in business. It’s easy as an entrepreneur to initially excite people about your product or idea, someone will always sound interested and encourage you to go forward with it. Our problem is that we have a relatively generic product. For people to put money down for something, it has to be something specifically they need. It has to save them money or improve their quality of life before they would invest in buying it. That make much easier to explain to someone the benefits of your product, and people are more likely to be interested and would be all the more likely to put money down for it. Nils Roder, Edinburgh Robotics, August 2007.