BLOG // Could my dream of starting a Robotics company have come true had it not been for Pittsburgh? // 04 Apr 2016

BLOG // Could my dream of starting a Robotics company have come true had it not been for Pittsburgh?

04 Apr 2016

by Vaish Krishnamurthy

I recently went to an event about Pittsburgh becoming the next Silicon Valley for robotic innovation jointly held by the MIT Enterprise Forum and TiE Pittsburgh at Alpha Lab Gear. It was a wonderful event with a huge turnout. The panel list was a selection of brilliant leaders in the industry in Pittsburgh: Stephen DiAntonio from Carnegie Robotics, John Bares from Uber ATC, Chris Moehle from Robotics Hub, and Jim Rock from Seegrid. My main takeaways were:

  1. Pittsburgh has a very strong Robotics presence – CMU with its wonderful faculty and students, research centers like NREC (National Robotics Engineering Center) and RI (Robotics Institute), and early successful robotics companies like Carnegie Robotics and Seegrid, just to name a few. The strong robotics presence was the reason why Uber chose Pittsburgh for their Advanced Technology Center (ATC) when they could have picked any other location in the world! President Obama said “You might not know this, but one of my responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief is to keep an eye on robots.” And where did he come? NREC in Pittsburgh to announce a $500M initiative! Check out more at http://www.nrec.ri.cmu.edu/about/presidential_visit/information/.

  2. Pittsburgh’s cost of living is actually affordable – The exact quote during this event was “Pittsburgh has the talent of Silicon Valley at the mid-west cost of living” and most importantly, the students who come to Pittsburgh, either for places like CMU or the University of Pittsburgh, choose to stay here and keep their newly minted talents with them.

All this made me wonder about my own journey so far. Could I have started a robotics company if we had lived in Seattle or New Jersey? My answer was a resounding “No”. I had been so busy during this journey that I never thought about such a question until this event. When I came up with the idea for CleanRobotics and decided to leave my comfortable, well-paying job to do a start-up, it took me literally days to get introduced to Ilana at Alpha Lab Gear through our personal friend Professor Lenore. When Ilana asked me to find a Mechanical Engineering/Robotic Technical Co-Founder, it took me a day to reach out to my friend’s husband Koushil who is a mechanical engineering professor at CMU. What was our common bond? Our kids who go to the CMU day care! Lastly, I needed someone with a socio-economic background and I reached out to my other best friend’s husband, Charles. Charles had moved to Pittsburgh eight years ago to complete his Masters in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh. His wife Becky followed him to Pittsburgh. Becky and I started work in our previous company on the same day and have remained friends ever since. Last but not the least, when we needed our modest seed money to get started, our dear friend Zeynep stepped in. Her husband and my husband have been friends since they went to MIT more than a decade ago and are now colleagues at CMU. The point is the ease and speed at which I (with the guidance of mentors like Ilana, Roger, Sean and MJG) assembled this puzzle called Clean Robotics together with such highly talented people was possible because we live in Pittsburgh.

As I look back at my journey from India through the US – Southern California to Seattle to New Jersey and (perhaps) to the final pit stop of Pittsburgh, PA, I realize that this was meant to be. I never thought eight years ago when we moved here that I would start a robotics company, but I did. I would have laughed or thought it was crazy if someone had mentioned it to me. I still wonder if I am crazy, but maybe that is separate blog post. :)

The plethora of resources to start a hardware company in Pittsburgh is incredible. In the last few months as our company starts to take shape and we build our team, we have managed to hire people within weeks, if not days. We hired Puru and Graeme, our two good spirited, flexible, and hard-working Mechanical and Robotics interns from CMU to go to HAX (the world’s first and largest hardware accelerator that CleanRobotics has been accepted into) in Shenzhen, China; Lauren, a super creative industrial design intern from CMU; and lastly I lured Heather, my amazing technical writer at my last job away from being a full-time mom to being our Marketing & Communications Manager. We also have Mike, a fabulous (volunteer) technical writer who helps us out with our competition applications and proposals. Mike also worked in my team at my last job. I am truly honored to know all of these people. These are some of the best people I have ever met and it is the team that makes us who we are and how successful we will become. We are all dedicated to our mission of developing robots that can help us create a cleaner, greener earth. I am lucky to know these people and have them work with me on this initiative. As they said at this event, I guess I have Pittsburgh to thank because all these people were either Pittsburgh natives or came here to further their education. So thank you, Pittsburgh!

As I post this, I am honored to share that we were invited (Thanks to Ilana) to a closed door meeting with Jean Case, philanthropist and investor who is visiting Pittsburgh as she is interested in meeting with social innovators. Jean has mentioned us in a Forbes article today about her visit to Pittsburgh. Another great example of what this city has offered for us. Please check out the article on forbes.com.

My final ode to Pittsburgh – I know I didn’t love you as much eight years ago, and I used to complain about the weather all the time. Today the winters don’t bother me as much. Instead, I see the loving, cozy Pittsburgers in the winter who keep me warm with their social company and uplifting messages. I still remember the time in my last job when the winter dragged on forever and I was pregnant with my daughter. A team of colleagues cleaned my office (literally vacuumed it) and put signs of Spring everywhere to cheer me up. Where could I find such wonderful people other than Pittsburgh? So here is my public Thank You to Pittsburgh and all the wonderful Pittsburghers!

Yinz are great! -Vaish