Denmark is very much entrepreneurially focused and has setup a great infrastructure to encourage people to start and grow companies. Part of this initative is to provide funding possibilities for people with innovative and groundbreaking ideas, so that they can grow their company with the intention of creating jobs. The Innofounder is one of these such initiatives, and provided through this Government organisation called InnovationsFonden. There are two branches to the Innofounder, one for recent graduates and the other for people with industry experience. Once InnovationsFounden has approved your application you get a monthly stipend for a year towards wages, and a lump sum to go towards development.
The point of these initiatives is for economic growth of the country. They want to see that there is a market for your idea and that it has the potential to create jobs. If you haven’t spent the time to talk to your customers and show that they are interested in the product that you are trying to develop, then it will be difficult for InnovationsFonden to trust that you can grow and scale your company. I would say that this part is the most difficult part, especially when you are looking at introducing mobile robots into an industry that is not used to working with robots.
The Innofounder was the first external funding that we received, and this was a year and a half after the inception of the company. At this stage we had initiated talks with one of the bigger supermarket chains in Denmark – they were very interested; we had developed our first prototype, and plan underway for the second, and we had conducted significant research into the market opportunity of what we were trying to create.
Many engineering-based companies spend a lot of time developing their technology, before they start getting any input or feedback from their potential customers. We involved our customers from the beginning of development and so we had tangible data with regards to the potential of what we were trying to create, along with the interest of a big supermarket chain. Niels Juls Jacobsen, had also seen the potential in this industry, and in us and so could vouch for us. Along with the fact that I have also been working in this industry for 9+ years I believe all these factors have led us to being granted the funding.
This funding was pivotal in the success of our company, at this early stage. We could afford to pay ourselves some wages for a year, which meant that we could concentrate, for all of 2020, on developing and growing the company, without too much time spent worrying about where we would get enough funds to keep the project going. The 100,000DKK allowed us to pay 2 external consultants to design our new prototype, with a focus on the importance of branding and identity in the retail sector. At the end of 2020 we demoed this robot to decision makers of this big Danish Supermarket chain, and they were very impressed with the look of the robot, and what we had accomplished in such a short period of time – they agreed to start a pilot program with us in 2021. The Innofounder gave us breathing room to get all these elements in place, before we started actively reaching out to investors to come on board and help us get the company to the next level.
Denmark is a great place for incubating young companies. The culture has a high focus on trust first, and it is not a hierarchical society, so it is easy enough to get in touch with people who are leaders and founders of very important companies, on an international level – Companies such as Universal Robots and Mobile Industrial Robots. The ecosystem in Denmark, especially here in Odense is a very supportive one, with everyone in the Robotics industry working together as everyone sees and understands that there is more to be achieved if we work together than if we work alone.
Odense has over 130 robotics related companies in its ecosystem, and it was decided a few years ago to setup this organisation called Odense Robotics, to pull all these companies together and to create a link between private and public companies and research institutes. This created a huge amount of strength in this small ecosystem. Part of their strength is understanding that for continued growth, you need to make sure that you have a continued stream of younger companies, and to ensure that this is in place you need to provide both business and technical guidance to these companies. And so Odense has become one of the best places in Europe to come and grow your hardware-based robotics startup.
Start talking with your customer from the very beginning and work on building a long lasting and trusting relationship between you both. Once this relationship is strong, it will come across in your funding applications.