Is Robot Launchpad an accelerator or a hackerspace? Both. Right now we’re testing the viability of opening a robot hackerspace. Theoretically, this makes a lot of sense. I believe that the hackerspace and maker movement are fueling a resurgence of growth in hardware startups. Chris Anderson’s new book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, argues that we are seeing the third wave of the industrial revolution which started back in the 18th century.
I thought I’d document our somewhat unusual journey through lean startup methodology and robotics. I founded Robot Launchpad almost a year ago to test the assumption that robotics and lean went together, that startups were startups whether they were hardware or software, that Silicon Valley was the place to do it, and that growing my own startup was the best way to test all these assumptions.
Robots Podcast is the place to hear the latest well informed news and views on robotics. I’m honored to have been interviewed about Robot Launchpad for the July 13 2012 podcast. Robots is a non-profit association dedicated to providing free, high quality, educational information for the robotics community and the general public, based in Switzerland but with global tendencies and they’ve been producing great podcasts since 2006. New episodes are released every two weeks, on Fridays at 9am GMT.
In addition to insights from high-profile professionals, Robots will take you for a ride through the world’s research labs, robotics companies and their latest innovations. I’m afraid I was on vacation when the Robot Launchpad podcast was released so I didn’t publicize it very well, but the whole list of podcasts HERE is great listening.
Today we talk with Andra Keay, founder of Robot Launch Pad, robotics startup accelerator based in Silicon Valley, about latest events, lean startup methodology, funding, and gender.
Andra Keay is a Robot Startup Evangelist passionate about growing robotics, one startup at a time. Supported by key actors in the field including Erin Rapacki and Ryan Calo, Robot Launch Pad aims to bridge the software, web and mobile startup worlds of Silicon Valley and San Francisco with the robotics community and the flourishing local maker sphere. In this interview, Keay tells us about the excellent startup events organized by Robot Launch Pad in April including the Robot Retreat, the Robot Block Party, Mega Startup Weekend and a Cloud Robotics Hackathon. She brings us into her world of lean startup methodology, minimum viable products and tells us about the importance of women in science.
Before launching Robot Launch Pad, Keay completed her Master of Digital Cultures in the area of Human-Robot Interactions at the University of Sydney. Her project on “the Naming of Robots” explored how roboticists express identity and gender through their technology. Passionate about robotics for a long time, she has also been running science and robot workshops for children since 1995, including coaching competition teams in Moonbots, First Lego League and RoboCup Jnr.
Now is the right time for robot startups. Why? The reasons range from changes within robotics to changes in the broader financial and technological environment. There is a critical mass which we believe has been reached. This list attempts to capture the zeitgeist and define all the reasons why we’ve hit the tipping point. I started out with 4 or 5 reasons. I’ve got 10 or more now.
1. Disruptions to funding models
2. Broader financial climate
3. Maturity of robotics technology (backlog of product)
4. Increasing modularity vs commonality
5. Decreasing cost of sensors (and other components – via democratizing/sanguine)
6. Object recognition no longer robotics problem (same as next?)
7. Internet of Things
8. Changing manufacturing/prototyping environment
9. Overall internet/software eats the world (or is this also object recognition?)
10. Lean Startup Methodology
11. Popular discussion = zeitgeist
this list is subject to change
1. Disruption to Funding Models
The Kauffman Foundation’s recent report on 20 years of investment in VC funding called it ‘a triumph of hope over experience’.
Venture capital (VC) has delivered poor returns for more than a decade. VC returns haven’t significantly outperformed the public market since the late 1990s, and, since 1997, less cash has been returned to investors than has been invested in VC. Speculation among industry insiders is that the VC model is broken, despite occasional high-profile successes like Groupon, Zynga, LinkedIn, and Facebook in recent years. 
Dave McClure from 500 Startups is (in)famous for promoting a ‘spray and pray’ funding style which focusses on making many small early investments, testing often and only keeping the best. However he recently declared that VC’s should be ashamed.
“Because we SUCK at EXACTLY the thing we’re supposed to help entrepreneurs do — build BIG, SCALABLE companies.” 
The lean startup mantra of ‘fail fast and cheap, challenge all assumptions’ is shaking up the orthodox investment models. This goes hand in hand with the crowdfunding movement which connects product ideas directly to customers, outsourcing the early stage production funding eg. KickStarter, IndieGoGo, Wefunder, CircleUp, etc.
Crowdfunding sites are springing up like mushrooms since the JOBS (Jumpstart our Business Startup) Act was signed by President Obama on April 5, 2012. Although the details still need some work before the process starts in earnest.
As the President said at today’s signing, “this bill is a potential gamechanger” for America’s entrepreneurs. For the first time, Americans will be able to go online and invest in small businesses and entrepreneurs. Not only will this help small businesses and high-growth enterprises raise capital more efficiently, but it will also allow small and young firms to expand and hire faster.