Peer Robotics participated in the Stanley+Techstars Accelerator in early 2021; however, due to the pandemic, the program was done virtually. CEO and Co-Founder Rishabh Agarwal hadn’t been to Hartford until a sunny Wednesday morning in October, when, hours after his arrival, he met MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price for a coffee and an interview at Semilla Café + Studio.
NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. How did the idea for Peer Robotics begin?
RISHABH AGARWAL: My background is in manufacturing. I studied mechanical engineering and robotics at the Indian Institute of Technology, Dehli. I’ve always been interested in how different manufacturing companies operated, whether it was a small-scale manufacturer or a large-scale manufacturer.
Over these past few years, we’ve seen how automation has become more and more of a necessity in many industries; however, it’s still very difficult to implement. It can take a long time to deploy a robot. If you have to automate some aspects, it can take anywhere from three to six months. And companies spend a lot for integration and deployment of these robots. Once the robots are deployed, they need to train their labor force to ensure that they can work along with the robots.
We recognized that process wasn’t scalable at all. Large enterprises could pour in a lot of money, but, for them to scale across different facilities, they had to start from scratch. Small and medium-scale enterprises were completely left out of the picture because they lacked capital.
Knowing all that, my team and I started building a product that would make robots easier for people on the shop floor, so people working along with these platforms could easily work with them, program them, and deploy them and essentially act like a peer for them. That was the whole concept behind Peer Robotics.
NAN: How did Peer Robotics become involved with the Stanley+Techstars Accelerator?
RISHABH: In January 2019, we started building our robots and doing some of the operations with leading automobile manufacturers in India and we saw that there was huge potential.
By that time, we had connected to the Stanley+Techstars Accelerator program. Stanley Black & Decker appreciated our idea and vision to build systems that are easier for humans to work along with and work on those human robot interaction platforms. We felt this was the right platform for Peer Robotics to build our platforms and start adding value in the U.S. manufacturing industry.
In December of 2020, we decided to move to the United States as part of the Stanley+Techstars Accelerator program. They supported us with our operations in the U.S. side in terms of talking to different users, comprehending their challenges, and finally now shifting to the U.S. side.
NAN: What did you gain from participating in the Stanley+Techstars Accelerator?
RISHABH: A lot of times, as innovators or product builders, we forget about what our customers really want and we just start building cool stuff. That’s where we benefitted from the accelerator program. Having our target customers right along with us, like at Stanley Black & Decker, we were able to access their network, which helped us understand our customers’ requirements and pain points so we can align our product and solutions for them.
Those connections also helped us answer important questions: Are we taking the right approach? Are we building something our customers really want? Are we building something that’s beneficial for them? Are they even interested in what we’re building?
NAN: How are you planning to market and build your customer base?
RISHABH: We’re currently working with users that have groups that are ready to deploy automation, but they’re struggling because of the talent barriers that exist. So, we’re working with them, providing these solutions, and ensuring that we can scale along with them. Having them onboarded gives us the credibility to collaborate with different manufacturers or different industries in the same space and even with their networks.
In that regard, we’re using both the customers and the location. For example, the Connecticut region is very dominant in aerospace manufacturing. So, being here and developing solutions for one of those enterprises allows us to showcase to other manufacturers for whom these technologies are relevant. That’s one way we can scale.
Our idea is that, when we talk about expanding, we’ve worked with our existing clients—the large enterprises that have these pain points—we’ve developed these solutions, used them as a showcase platform, and now we can go to the market with these technologies.
NAN: Tell us about your plans for creating a U.S. presence with the company.
RISHABH: We’ll still have our manufacturing operations in India. Our assembly and deployment and customer segment will be based out of Hartford. As we start to expand in the United States, we’ll be hiring deployment engineers, development engineers, and sales and marketing team members from the Hartford Region.
We’ll be hiring from this network because we wanted to get closer to the factories, the field, and the people who have already been working in this area. That’s our strategy for expansion.
NAN: You just arrived in Hartford. From a startup perspective, what are your hopes for growing your company in this ecosystem?
RISHABH: There are so many colleges and universities in the Hartford vicinity and, of course, it’s close to two larger cities and nearby funding areas. One of the primary reasons why we’re in Hartford is because of the access to talent, so we can hire. We can have the team members of the right location, plus access to customers. As a B2B company, it always pays off when you’re close to the customer, so you can build that trust, develop that relationship, and provide the right product.
We believe working alongside our partners and learning about the technology development helps us deliver a better product. And there’s a manufacturing hub here, which is another great reason for us to be in the Hartford Region.
From a more personal perspective, as a startup or especially as a first-time founder, it’s important to have the right community or network around you. Because when you’re starting, it can be a very lonely journey when you’re still trying to figure out different approaches and the right way to do things.
The Stanley+Techstars Accelerator program and the network of Hartford have enabled us to connect to the right people who can provide guidance. That’s the most important thing for a founder or a startup. Because if we have the right network or the right resources, we can build the right products that provide the right solutions.