Lessons from Silicon Valley: “Everyone is encouraged to try and change the world”

After returning from a week-long robotics mission to California, Silas Adekunle talks to Startups about the key lessons he learned

Following selection for a prestigious week-long robotics mission to California – after being named as one of the UK’s best robotic start-ups – Silas Adekunle talks to Startups about putting Silicon Valley on a pedestal and why the trip provided validation, useful contacts and inspiration for his fledgling company Reach Robotics.

“Today, I’m sitting on the other side of the world, staring across the pond. But just two months ago, Silicon Valley was on a pedestal for me, put there by the tech community, along with the media and many recent grads, like myself, with aspirations of taking my business to the so-called ‘mecca of innovation’.

Getting validation from Silicon Valley

My thinking was simple; if I can get validation for my company and my creation – mechamonsters – in Silicon Valley, then I can scale my business anywhere.

I had many questions; how does the UK robotics industry compare to Silicon Valley’s start-ups? What’s the market opportunity for robotic toys? Could mechamonsters become the game-changer for the adoption of stem subjects that I had envisioned?

These were just a couple of the questions that came to mind when I applied to join the Technology Strategy Board’s Robotics and Autonomous (RAS) Mission to California. So to be selected as one of the UK’s best robotic start-ups was the first win for me and validation that I was moving in the right direction…but there was much more work to be done.

And from the very start, the mission has not failed to live up to expectation.

Silicon Valley as a hub of innovation

The first day kicked off with breakfast hosted by Procopio, one of San Diego and Silicon Valley’s most prestigious law firms. After a quick roundtable introduction we sat through a lively debate on what made Silicon Valley and in particular, San Diego such a hub of innovation. We learnt what makes the heart of the Valley tick, finding out more about its three main industries: innovation, tourism and military, as well as hearing about the numerous tech start-up incubators and accelerators which have been instrumental in making Silicon Valley what it is today.

At the University of California, San Diego, we were greeted with a mind blowing visual presentation on data driven robotics which is a sometimes under-appreciated field. The best part of this visit was an opportunity to see the conception and development of Mip; a robotic toy developed by Tom Bewley which will soon hit the shelves. We have a real soft spot for engineers that create products to entertain and engage young people because their work resonates so much with what we do at Reach Robotics; capturing the imagination of young minds.

Silas Adekunle: Reach Robotics

Silas Adekunle: Reach Robotics

Learning from larger organisations

Throughout the different meetings, networking and round table discussions with various dignitaries, it was reassuring to see a recurring theme of larger, more powerful businesses creating development and growth opportunities for entrepreneurs like myself. It confirms that we are on the right track in the UK with the creation of similar spaces, for example the hardware incubation space set up in the Bristol Robotics Lab.

As a 22 year old budding entrepreneur, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the mission. My aim was to seek investment and partnership opportunities for my company and I was very diligent in following up on contacts after every meeting. Along with Glenn Smith (MapleBird), Harry Gee (Agilic) and Matthew Holloway (q-bot), I was invited to pitch at the Silicon Valley Hardware meet-up; a 100+ people event where makers of all backgrounds are encouraged to pitch their projects regardless of the stage of development. According to Martin Hitch, CEO of Bossa Nova, this is the attitude that defines the Valley – the fact that everyone is encouraged to try and change the world.

A positive attitude

This same attitude is what I have been trying to promote through Reach Robotics for the past four years. Children today will be the engineers and scientists of tomorrow, so from a very young age they must be encouraged to be creative and inventive; taking advantage of opportunities that come their way. We can help them do this through robotic toys because it captures their imaginations and develops their interests in STEM fields, giving them the right foundation to go out there and change the world.”

Silas Adekunle is founder and CEO of Reach Robotics, a robotics entertainment company that has developed MechaMonsters – small, four-legged robots that can interact with their owners and each other. He took part in the Technology Strategy Board’s Robotics and Autonomous Mission to California.

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