“We are trying to build an ecosystem for robotics as an alternate industry, which will create a demand for robotic engineers from the industry,” says Pulkit Gaur, founder-chief technology officer of Ahmedabad-based robot manufacturer, Gridbots. He envisions a future where industries will opt for robotic solutions and then aims to fulfil the resulting demand by creating more robotic engineers alongside prestigious institutions in the country. For this purpose, he is tying up with engineering institutes to establish robotics labs.
“Our aim is to make robots a part of day-to-day life for everyone, and these robots have to be made by Gridbots.”
Gaur is a production and industrial engineer from MBM Engineering College in Jodhpur, and his passion for robotics is more than apparent. He believes robots can simplify routine tasks and thus, save precious time and energy. He started Gridbots in 2007 with seed capital from friends and family, and had a good revenue model of demonstrating workable products that won the company immediate customers because of which it became profitable soon.
The first client is always the toughest to acquire and for Gridbots, the story was no different. The company managed to create a workable product for a government organisation – the National Security Agency. The deal went through and this prestigious client became the selling point with other organisations. Till date, the government segment also contributes heavily to Gridbots’ revenues.
The deal also helped Gridbots demonstrate the feasibility of its business model and thus, be incubated at Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A). “It really helped us a lot with networking and receiving the right guidance from mentors,” reminisces Gaur.
Over the years, Gaur realised that there are few structured courses for robotics in engineering institutes and a gap between the academia and the industry. To bridge this gap, Gridbots helps educational institutions set up robotic labs that give students a perspective on how robotics can help strengthen the concepts they learn theoretically. The labs are equipped with products from Gridbots and the company has also tied up with other players in the field to have their products at the labs. “This way, the students also get used to Gridbots as a brand,” he points out.
Founder: Pulkit Gaur
Many institutes were keen to have these labs in their campuses and today, some of Gridbots’ partners include Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Gandhinagar, Guwahati and Mumbai, and BITS Pilani among others. Recently, the company also tied up with 85 franchisees for its educational products under the brand ‘Edubotics’ to help schools set up robotic labs.
As for its current product line-up, it includes robots for material transport, rotating turntables and telepresence robots that are webcams on wheels. Gaur also notes that Gridbots has created an underwater robot, a first in the Indian market.
Focused on innovation
According to an estimate by BCC Research (a leading information resource provider), the global robotics industry is expected to touch US $ 21.4 billion in 2014, growing at 4 per cent CAGR (compound annual growth rate). The Indian robotics industry is worth approximately US $750 million and growing at 2 – 2.5 per cent. And it is expected to grow up to two-and-a-half times the average global growth rate, with Gridbots hoping to be one of the prominent players in this segment. “Our aim is to make robots a part of day-to-day life for everyone, and these robots have to be made by Gridbots,” says Gaur.
Gridbots’ main focus areas remain innovation and developing products in the industrial and defence space. As a result, the company invests heavily on research – around 40 per cent of its revenues go into research. “Being a research and development (R&D) based organisation, we rely on state-of-the-art research and products based on that research,” he says. Its approach to research and product development is quite unique. “Once we devise something new, only then do we try to solve real life problems with that innovation and consider the business opportunities involved,” he adds. This essentially decouples research and company growth altogether, which is very important for Gridbots as the company was created to do some generic research and grow parallely.
As for furthering partnerships, Gridbots has signed up with technical partners like Intel and Texas Instruments among others and uses their beta products to create its prototypes. “Since we are competing at the global level, we only use high-speed hardware and software for developing our products,” adds Gaur.
Given that robotics is a new field, most of its clients want people who can develop and deploy the products. Gridbots uses trained fresh graduates for the deployment while interns and experienced engineers work on developing the products. In addition to robotics, the company also focuses on image recognition products.
Create the product, create the need and create the resources – this is the three-pronged approach of Gridbots to effectively tap market potential. The company started with a three-people team and now has around 45 members. It plans to increase this to 100 by this year end. It has enough resources to grow organically, but is in talks with venture capitalists to raise US $ 2 million. Of note, the company has enough pre-orders to be relaxed about its funding options. “We are not in a hurry as we have enough cash flow to manage growth. Our climb-up will have to be a strategic one, and we are very particular about partnering with only those whose vision is aligned to ours,” stresses Gaur.
Currently, Gridbots is focusing on the SME (small and medium enterprises) business segment – the prime reason being that this space is uncluttered and specific solutions are required by various industries. Also, this is an area that is less capital intensive when compared to large and heavy industries.
The company is also exploring international business opportunities and is currently working with some prestigious universities in the U.S. and Europe by supplying high-end robots for research. But Gaur is clear that the domestic market offers high potential and intends to leverage his company’s first-mover advantage. Not one to feel threatened by competition, Gaur believes there is enough room in the industry for every player to grow.
“The biggest challenge is to keep our focus and maintain the standards,” says Gaur. For a company in the early-growth stage, he believes that everybody should contribute towards various strategies and decisions – this ensures everyone’s consent and mutual agreement between team members. He adds that Gridbots is quite an open company. The interesting nature of the work environment also helps address the issue of retention. When it comes to hiring, the selection process is stringent, but ultimately passion overrides qualifications, according to Gaur.
Gridbots has effectively implemented a 360 degree strategy that encompasses creating the resources, giving them training and absorbing them in to the organisation – thus, addressing the resource crunch. On the other hand, by successfully breaking into the defence segment and creating need-based products for specific purposes in the industrial segment, it has ensured that it has enough to grow on for the times to come.