Startups

Innovation Works’ new Robotics Factory officially launches Feb. 1

The Build Back Better Regional Challenge-funded program includes three programs designed to set up robotics entrepreneurs to be self-sufficient and thrive in the local industry.

Apps are open for Innovation Works' Robotics Factory. (Courtesy image)

Come Feb. 1, founders of robotics startups — or in some cases, robotics-adjacent startups — will be able to apply to the Innovation Works-led Robotics Factory.

In fall 2022, the Pittsburgh region was announced as the recipient of $62.7 million in grants from the $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge administered by the US Economic Development Administration (EDA). Innovation Works, the North Side-based early-stage investment org, would receive $12 million of that to launch the Robotics Factory. The program aims to support the creation of companies that produce their own products, focusing on robotics and automation in industry sectors including agriculture, construction, mining, energy, warehousing and manufacturing.

“We’re going to create companies that are developing products that can be produced in Western Pennsylvania — not just produced in China, and not just produced somewhere else,” Innovation Works’ Mike Formica told Technical.ly in September. Formica is the managing director of hardware and AlphaLab Gear, Innovation Works’ hardware accelerator program, and is leading the Robotics Factory project.

Mike Formica testing robotics product. (Courtesy)

Now, with the application date in place, Innovations Works and its partners on this project are reaffirming their vision for the Factory. At the time the project was announced, Formica explained that they wanted to set up robotics companies to thrive in the long term, as well as give individuals currently still underrepresented in the field a shot at employment and wealth creation in the region.

“Not only will the Robotics Factory programs address existing problems experienced by industries that can be solved using robotics and automation solutions, we plan to also provide the resources and funding that are so critical to emerging companies,” said Ven Raju, president and CEO of Innovation Works, in a statement this week. “Together, the Robotics Factory Create, Accelerate and Scale programs will be dynamic additions to one of the region’s most important economic engines.”

Innovation Works has pledged that during the four years of the EDA’s funding, it’ll be matching a portion by providing additional operating and investment capital to participating startups. The Factory has a few parts, for companies at different stages:

  • Its Create program connects early-stage entrepreneurs in this space with industry experts and relevant workshops.
  • The Accelerate program will offer six startups up to $100,000 in pre-seed money during a seven-month accelerator.
  • The Scale program will help startups develop prototypes and access services that help them advance their products.

As a part of the Pittsburgh Robotics Network’s mission to develop business opportunities for the city’s robotics industry, that org will help Innovation Works market these programs.

In September, Formica observed that one of the issues the pandemic highlighted was that many companies are almost entirely dependent on entities outside of the US to fill their manufacturing needs. This can create problems, he said, because in cases of transportation shortages or labor issues, companies can find themselves unable to get their products out into the world in an efficient and cost-effective manner. By teaching company leaders to build cultures of self sufficiency, the goal is to avoid predicaments similar to those faced in 2020.

“The skilled team and specific capabilities of the Robotics Factory programs will make meaningful connections that benefit both emerging startups and the thousands of manufacturers in the region,” Formica said this week. “By starting and growing companies that build their products locally, we provide opportunities for broader regional job growth.”

If any of this sounds like something that could benefit your startup (or help you launch one), learn more about the application and the program here.

These Build Back Better projects were also announced in fall 2022:

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supportedby the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Pittsburgh Robotics Network / AlphaLab Gear / Innovation Works (Pittsburgh)
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