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LaunchCMU highlights “Robotics in Manufacturing” with Carnegie Mellon University startups

Manufacturing looks wildly different today than it did 50 years ago. Advancements in technology have accelerated productivity and vastly increased workers’ safety. Innovators are repeatedly breaking through prior limitations of artificial intelligence to find new ways to enhance production and fulfillment.

The Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship highlighted this progress at LaunchCMU this fall, hosted on Oct. 10, 2017 in the Cohon University Center. Titled “Robotics in Manufacturing,” this year’s event invited entrepreneurs — many with ties to Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute or the university’s Portugal program in information and communications technologies — who are using AI and robotics to demonstrate their companies and network with investors. It serves as a sequel to the “Robotics in Manufacturing” event in Silicon Valley this past spring.

The event, sponsored by Latham & Watkins, serves as an opportunity for the Swartz Center to highlight the entrepreneurial activities at Carnegie Mellon. This is the fifth year for LaunchCMU, hosted in the spring in Silicon Valley and in the fall on Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus. Executive Director Dave Mawhinney, associate teaching professor of entrepreneurship, introduced the Swartz Center and its mission before opening the showcase talks featuring six industry experts discussing how their work is advancing the ways humans and robots collaborate.

Leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship

“Startups at Carnegie Mellon are often looking at how robotics can improve quality of life,” said Laurie Weingart, interim provost of Carnegie Mellon, Richard M. and Margaret S. Cyert Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory, in her opening remarks.

One of the featured speakers was Austin Webb, MBA ’17, CEO and cofounder of RoBotany, a robotic indoor vertical farming company. “Food is the largest market in the world,” Webb said, and RoBotany’s model minimizes the environmental impact of traditional agriculture and increases efficiency and crop output with automated hardware.

Gary Fedder, CEO of the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute in Pittsburgh, highlighted Pittsburgh’s unique position as a seedbed for developments in robotics in manufacturing. The city, he said, boasts several large manufacturers, a robust startup ecosystem, and top tech talent from universities like Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh.

A prime investment opportunity

A key aspect of LaunchCMU is the opportunity for companies to present during the demonstration and poster sessions. The Swartz Center invited venture capitalists and other investors to tour the 33 ventures demonstrating their innovative products.

One such company was Idelic, cofounded by 2016 MBA graduates Hayden Cardiff and Nick Bartel. “We were definitely hoping to make connections with potential investors or those who could open up doors to new customers,” Cardiff said. “We were looking to stay connected and give back to the CMU entrepreneurial ecosystem that has helped us so much over the past few years.” Idelic’s flagship product, SafetyBox, allows trucking fleets to better predict risk, track driver behavior and automate compliance.

Featured companies included industrial services (Connect Robotics, IAM Robotics, InvenTower), consumer goods (DaBBLe, Nimbus Bionics, Dishie) and educational software (Caterpillar Math, NoRILLA). Each demonstrated innovations in artificial intelligence (find technologies) or manufacturing (LumiShield Technologies). Cofounded by Adam Simone, HNZ ’11, Leaf Shave produces cost-effective and environmentally conscious razors as an alternative to plastic disposable safety razors. This was Simone’s fourth year attending LaunchCMU. “I have kept in touch with my network from CMU, especially in the area of entrepreneurship,” he said. “The crowd that LaunchCMU attracts is a great cross section of folks, and when you’re running a startup that’s consumer-focused, you never pass an opportunity to get in front of people and tell your story.”

The Swartz Center’s mission is to attract promising entrepreneurial talent to Carnegie Mellon and build connections with university researchers and alumni. Each of the ventures featured at the event was affiliated with the university or a member of its community, including companies developed through the Swartz Center’s Olympus Incubator Program or funded in part by its Open Fields Entrepreneurs Fund.

“LaunchCMU presents a unique opportunity to bring a wide range of folks together who contribute to the CMU entrepreneurial ecosystem in various ways,” said Craig Markovitz, assistant teaching professor of entrepreneurship and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Swartz Center. “Everyone in the room has one goal in common regardless of their background and experiences: to contribute to the mission to make CMU a worldwide destination for entrepreneurship.”