e-Talks: Sander Gansen on Robotex

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Robotex International is dubbed “the biggest robotics festival on the planet.” As of 2018, Robotex, which originated in Estonia, has spread to over 18 countries. With plans to expand further, we sat down with Sander Gansen, Chairman of Robotex, to learn all about Robotex’s upcoming projects and festival. You will find our video interview and extended interview below.


How has Robotex evolved?

Robotex started in 2001 with competitions, and over the years it went into exhibitions as well as workshops. At some point, we also developed a conference; which, at its start, was just a science conference for university professors. But now, this year, we are focusing the conference on executives as well as policy makers — and of course startups and inventors. This is, from the event side, a big part. Other than that, we have our own education programs, summer schools, boot camps, and we might even start our own robotics schools soon. Then we have innovation challenges and start up programs that we are also developing. In the longer term future, we plan to start an early stage fund which will invest globally.

What is the Entrepreneurial Challenge?

The entrepreneurial challenge is a basically the cornerstone of our startup programs. We want to attract to the early stage robotics startups: they might be only prototype stage or first customers early stage product. The idea is that they come to the event globally through the local ones. Then the best come to Estonia, where they have to present what they built over the course of the whole event to all the people, get feedback, and might even do first sales. They have to pitch to investors and judges. They have to go deeper and talk about the tech to judges as well. Then we choose the best one and give them some award money as well and try to help them potentially find investors in the future.

What are the main challenges of exporting your brand?

Funny enough we are kind of growing organically. So what happened with Robotex in 2016 is that one of one of our international participating teams from Cyprus asked if they could also use our brand in Cyprus and start something there. We said, “eh, why not?” And then they held their first event in 2017. After which we had 3 different companies from China asking if they if they could bring Robotex to China. We didn’t know why, but later on we learned that in China if you’re doing educational programs, it’s better if they’re international because then the government believes that they work. So we went to China and we found this one partner that we liked, and had them start Robotex there. After that Greece, then India, and now we are already opening our 18th country. And in fact, the last 6 months we’ve been having so much interest from different countries to open Robotex, that most likely the biggest challenge is how to cope with all this attraction and keep quality without losing quantity.

What’s new in this years confrence?

Robotex conference is totally business focused. So we are only attracting executives like CXOs, policy makers, investors and start-ups, and bringing on speakers from fields like Space tech, Cyber tech, and of course Robotics and AI to speak about what’s currently happening in the innovation world. What are the trends? What are the kind of innovations will be her in the next 5 or 10 yrs? and how to implement them? and the important part is we want to give this knowledge to the executives and have them actually implement these technologies as well as have policy makers learn what is coming so that they can help not hinder the process of innovation. This year we have the chief data strategist, Cassie from Google, coming with opening key note. Then we have XAI, which is doing basically a bot who is acting as a PA for you: so organizing all the meetings without you having to answer when you will be there. We have experts from NASA, ESA, and different Cyber Security experts. So it’s a bunch of really interesting people.

What are the future goals of Robotex?

So our current plan, is that by the end of this year, we want to be in 25 countries, and then keep on growing from there. Our ideal would be that in the next 10 years we would end up in 100 countries and then see where we can go from there. We have already had some difficulties where we have had exits some countries because of political reasons. But so far, in most case, where we have entered into a country, the team has been really good at starting to grow the whole thing there. Other than that, we are introducing our robotic school system, and we want to take it the global level. Like we have the music schools globally, we want to have this similar type thing for robotics schools. And especially for the advanced level because there is a lot of robotics clubs at schools and universities which are getting the basic level there. But at some point when someone is very smart, they kind of are just left there. They keep on learning the same things, and they do not get better and better. We need to make these advanced programs while, of course, keeping on doing the beginner ones. As well as teaching teachers and maybe even executives. But what is my own biggest passion is, we want to start a robotics focused fund. With Robotex especially, as we are attracting these early stage start-ups via our entrepreneurship challenge, and hopefully this will be here in the next 5 years’ time and then we can start growing it to more later stages. And one day having the biggest private equity firm in Robotics. A small dream of mine.

What are the innovation challenges?

Other than the entrepreneurship challenge, we are also doing the innovation challenge. Where we attract some global companies that want to have teams solve their problems, or just want to attract talent. So last year we had our first competition with Starship, where they basically had a challenge where teams had to build small Starships that had had to find objects and send information back to home base and capture points. And the idea for Starship was to see if they could find some talent whom they could hire. This year we are doing it again. Together with them. Starship is one of our biggest partners because Ahti Heinla, the founder of Starship, is a ex-Robotex participant.

And we are starting a challenge with Taxify this year. Where they want to have teams build potential solutions to run the autonomous car parks, which could be used to make the ETA better on the apps – and potentially one day run the fleats.

Then we have Elisa, the telelcommunication company, giving us their data so we can do a machine learning competition as well.

This one of the services that Robotex can provide: we bring in 10-20 international teams who have built some solutions, come back to one location, show what they built, and pitch it, and have these companies either get the talent or the solution or get partners.

Robotex International

Robotex International, the biggest event, happens in Tallinn from Novemeber 30 to December 2nd. Where we have the exhibition, festival, and competitions throughout, and the conference till December 1st. The tickets are currently on sale, and we are accepting request for speakers and for companies who want to exhibit at the Expo. And if you can join us for the Estonian event, then you can choose for 18 others globally, or join us in 2019!



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