Crowdfunding successes for BRL robotics start-ups top £100k

Issue date: 04 August 2014

An artist's impression of two players controlling battling robots

Three start-up robotics businesses, based in theTechnology Business Incubator at Bristol Robotics Lab (BRL) have raised over £100k in crowdfunding to help get their innovative ideas off the ground - and the next company is already planning a campaign.

The latest company to achieve funding success isAgilic, a young company which exceeded its target on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform and raised £22k. The successful campaign shows there is real market interest in Agilic's Tiddlybot - a simple funbot that draws, follows lines, and inspires STEM learning through play. Agilic founder and UWE graduate Harry Gee has just returned from the US where he visited high tech companies and researchers in Silicon Valley as part of the prestigious TSB Robotics & Autonomous Systems Mission 2014. “The Mission boosted support for our campaign and it was great to make contact with so many thriving robotics companies and organisations. I hope to work with several of them in the future. The incubation facilities in Silicon Valley were very impressive, with established companies providing significant commercialisation support. This seems an obvious next step for technology business incubation in Bristol.”

Another recent highly successful Kickstarter campaign was for 'the Strooder' by OmniDynamics, a high quality and affordable plastic filament extruder that produces inexpensive, simple, safe and superb filament for 3d printing – the 3d equivalent of ink cartridges. OmniDynamics raised £67k through crowdfunding in July. Founders David Graves and Greg Gruszeki are 3rd year UWE Bristol robotics students on a self-employed work placement in the BRL tech incubator. David said, “We've just completed Strooder development and are manufacturing nearly 300 units in September to fulfil our Kickstarter commitments. This has been an amazing experience for us and a real team effort - with 13 other UWE students helping us including product designers,Filmmaking and Creative Media and the Business School's Team Entrepreneurs. Bristol is a great place to start up a technology business and people have been very willing to share their experience.”

Joel Gibbard, champion of the Open Hand Project to make prosthetics more accessible is a graduate in robotics from Plymouth. Joel now works in the BRL incubator alongside the OmniDynamics team, following a successful funding campaign to raise £42k on Indiegogo, another popular crowdfunding platform. "Working at the BRL incubator is like being part of one big team doing several projects; we all talk to each other and share ideas, skills and even funding opportunities."

Silas Adekunle, another UWE Robotics graduate, founded Reach Robotics to exploit the potential for robots to revolutionise gaming by dynamically linking physical and digital modes of play. He is developing MechaMonsters - small, four-legged robots that can interact with their owners and each other and are controlled from a mobile phone. Also returning from the TSB's US robotics mission, Silas commented, “The mission videos capture our experience and are a useful resource for robotics start-ups. I was able to meet US robotics entrepreneurs already engaged in manufacture and sale of robotic toys, which helped me to crystallise my business plan. We will be launching a crowdfunding campaign this autumn and I'm more confident now I've been to the US and been able to share and learn from others in the BRL incubator.”

Jill Burnett, Innovation Manager at BRL, said, “Helping new robotics businesses start and grow is a core part of BRL's mission. Our technology business incubator has provided valuable insight into what really works in this dynamic landscape. Crowdfunding is a good example. UWE Bristol is now working with the West of England Local Economic Partnership to develop a University Enterprise Zone (UEZ), which will provide space, facilities and access to academic expertise for start-up and fast growth high-tech businesses. There's a great opportunity for companies in our local high-tech cluster to engage with our UEZ initiative, building on US examples like those visited by the TSB mission.”

BRL is a collaborative partnership between the University of the West of England (UWE, Bristol) and the University of Bristol, and home to a vibrant community of over 100 academics and industry practitioners, which lead current thinking in service robotics, intelligent autonomous systems and bio-engineering.

Robotics and autonomous systems has been identified as one of the 'eight great technologies' by the UK Government as ones that could propel future economic growth in the country.

UWE Bristol recently won government funding to set up one of four 'University Enterprise Zones' to be supported by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. The Enterprise Zone will provide business incubation and grow on space for businesses specialising in robotics, biosciences, biomedicine and other high tech areas.

To view photos of the projects please visit the UWE Bristol News Flickr pages.

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