Industrial robots have a vast scope of application. Their complex motion patterns make their programming so time-consuming, however, that their use is frequently not economical. The KIT spin-off ArtiMinds Robotics has developed a software that makes the programming of robots considerably faster and more intuitive. We have interviewed the ArtiMinds team on their idea, the foundation of their company and their future perspective.
What does your company stand for?
Setting up highly flexible robot applications, in which industrial robots use force sensors and/or cameras to adapt to process variances, used to be a time-consuming and complicated endeavour. Our ArtiMinds Robot Programming Suite (RPS) makes this process up to 100 times faster, according to measurements taken by external industry experts. The software supports a variety of unmodified robot hardware models and can be seamlessly integrated into established operational procedures.
This allows for countless new applications of industry robots in almost all producing sectors, logistics, and laboratory processes. Half of the top-ten industrial corporations in Germany have already become our customers, alongside some medium-sized German companies. Our software is also popular abroad. We are currently working on expanding our global network of authorised dealers. In 2015, an expert jury in Silicon Valley awarded us the title of “best European start-up” in the field of robotics.
Where and how did you get this brilliant idea?
The vision for the start-up existed for more than ten years before its foundation; its research basis had been a work in progress since 2002. Between 2007 and 2012, the team of entrepreneurs achieved a number of technological breakthroughs and engaged in discussions with the industry, and the concrete vision of the product finally materialised.
It has been known for 30 years that our topic is a key aspect for the entire automation industry. The technical details of the issue, on the other hand, are incredibly complex and we worked for a decade to acquire a basic understanding of them. Talking about a “spark of inspiration” would be inaccurate. It was, rather, a long path that led to a functional, technological solution for a glaringly obvious problem on the market.
How did your founding team come together?
In 2003, Sven and Simon visited a lecture on entrepreneurship by Professor Reinhold Würth and decided to they would one day start a company in the field of robotics. Even though we had been thinking about this for a while, the KIT event was an important impulse on our way to the actual foundation of the start-up. Rainer, Gerhard and Sven met from 2007 onward during their research at the KIT Institute of Anthropomatics.
Studies have shown that start-up teams who have worked together for many years prior to the foundation of their company are the most stable and successful. Our experience confirms this: our long-standing experience helps us trust and understand each other, communicate, and assign tasks ideally on the basis of the interests and talents of each team member. Besides an extensive technological education, KIT provides a great environment for academics and students to meet each other and, eventually, launch strong start-ups.
What would you say are the benefits of being your own boss?
A start-up allows you to focus entirely on creating and designing, instead of wasting half of your precious time on “politics”, as happens in well-established companies. This is the main reason why start-ups can be successful, despite their disadvantages in terms of capital, publicity, customer relations and understanding, market confidence, et cetera: they are simply more efficient, as their development and their product are in the foreground. They are less concerned with the complicated shenanigans that take place in larger organisations.
What do you think are the properties that one should have to be a successful entrepreneur?
I could name a lot of things now, but let us focus on an aspect that is frequently neglected: intellectual independence is the most important characteristic for an entrepreneur. Only those who can see things that others overlook, assert themselves against the prevalent opinion and convince sceptics will be able to succeed as entrepreneurs. Of course, it is important to maintain a friendly attitude – not only towards your fellow team members and employees, but also towards all external stakeholders.
What would you term as the hurdles on the way to a successful business? Where did you get support?
In retrospect, market confidence was our primary obstacle. Unfortunately, a lot of start-ups flop spectacularly on the market, and industrial customers tend to be very cautious about doing business with young companies working with new technologies. Three questions will probably always haunt us: “How long have you been on the market?”, “How many employees do you have?” and “Who is using your product so far?”. This is the classic catch-22 for entering the market; even with an outstanding product, it is very hard to overcome.
You need a lot of endurance and persuasiveness to find market actors who are prepared to take a risk early on and act as an advocate for you. During the early stages, nothing is more useful than a recommendation from a market giant who has had a high reputation for decades.
How did you deal with the large workloads during start-up?
Efficient organisation, i.e. the rigorous division of tasks and regular communication, and excellency at work – quality before quantity! – have always been our paradigms. Essentially: at the end of the day, we always stop working on time. Unfortunately, the start-up scene largely still believes in the myth that a lot of work equals a lot of success. At least in the high-tech sector, this is definitely not true. More work does not bring success – more intelligent, efficient work does. It should be obvious that an exhausted mind is neither creative nor discerning, but astonishingly, a lot of people seem to forget that. You should always work on improving all processes and tasks and make them more efficient.
Do you have any advice for other young entrepreneurs?
Gather information and learn individually. Never blindly imitate what others say or do. Instead, constantly reflect on the reasons for things working or not working, on how they work, what motivates the people who say and do something, and then do everything better. Your own goal should be continuous optimisation: always keep moving, the market does not tolerate stagnation!
Finally, I want to emphasise that a company is run by people, not by abstract technologies. This means that the employees and company culture must be at the heart of all activity.
Humans and constant movement: that is what defines entrepreneurship. It is not a “job”, it is the pure adventure of life itself!