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The Pitchfire Startup Competition has been an opening-day highlight for years now at RoboBusiness, which runs Oct. 18-19 in Santa Clara, Calif. Pitchfire, which happens on Oct. 18 from 4:15-5 PM at the Santa Clara Convention Center, is a must-attend event for investors, robotics entrepreneurs and innovation leaders alike. Attendees get a first glimpse at cutting-edge technologies from robotics’ most exciting emerging companies, and the opportunity to forge new commercial partnerships.
This year, four robotics startups will compete for the $5,000 first-place prize. Each startup gets five minutes to describe their company’s solution, business model, value proposition and more. After all the contestants have pitched, Pitchfire judges will compare notes, come to a consensus, and announce a winner based on who they believe to be best primed for commercial success.
RoboBusiness is the leading event focused on developing commercial robots. There will be 60-plus speakers, 60-plus exhibitors and demos on the expo floor, networking receptions and more. RoboBusiness is co-located with the Field Robotics Engineering Forum, an event focused on how to successfully develop robots that operate in wide-ranging, outdoor, dynamic environments. Also co-located with RoboBusiness is DeviceTalks West, the premier industry event for medical technology professionals, currently in its ninth year. Both events attract engineering and business professionals from a broad range of healthcare and medical technology backgrounds.
Companies that have previously competed in Pitchfire include Tatum Robotics, Southie Autonomy, Sadako Technologies, Autonomous Marine Systems, inVia Robotics, Catalina Health, Cubit, Rokid, RightHand Robotics, Soft Robotics and Knightscope.
Here is a look at this year’s participants:
Date Founded: September 21, 2021
Location: Seattle, Wash.
No. of employees: 2
Funding to date: $0
AIVOT provides software for robots to perform various open-ended tasks in unstructured settings. AIVOT learns new skills by following spoken instructions and observing human demos. The self-learning agent improves skills with feedback and experience and uses vision to perform the tasks. The end-to-end software stack can be deployed on any third-party hardware (robotic arms, AMRs, and humanoid form factors).
Date Founded: January 30, 2023
Location: Seattle, Wash.
No. of employees: 4
Funding to date: $200,000
Glidance is developing a self-guided mobility aid, called Glide, for people with sight loss. Glide helps a person with sight loss get around with ease and confidence by guiding them to where they want to go using advanced autonomous guiding technologies and a novel mechanical design promoting a sense of agency and independence. Glide also uses haptic and audio feedback to help provide a safe walking experience for its users.
Date Founded: March 14, 2023
Location: Detroit, Michigan
No. of employees: 3
Funding to date: $150,000
Staxel automates micro-fulfillment using robots and artificial intelligence, optimizing inventory management and fleet operations. Staxel uses a unique autonomous mobile robot design that can move along floors, vertically and between shelves. Staxel said it will soon launch a fully automated darkstore with a 10x boost in operational efficiency.
Date Founded: June 17, 2017
Location: San Luis Obispo, Calif.
No. of employees: 10
Funding to date: $802,000
TRIC Robotics is helping farmers control pests and disease using ultraviolet light as an alternative for chemical pesticides. Ultraviolet light is a resistance and chemical free solution that is more sustainable and effective than chemicals. The company’s solution is a tractor-scale robot that carries UV lights up and down the rows as a pest control service that replaces their existing pest control costs.
Meet the Judges
The panel of judges will include:
Sanjay Aggarwal: Venture Partner, F-Prime Capital
Aggarwal is a Venture Partner focused on frontier technology investment opportunities. Prior to joining F-Prime Capital, he was CEO of Unicel Technologies, an India-focused mobile messaging company. Aggarwal scaled Unicel to become a leader in the Indian market and successfully exited the business to Karix Mobile.
Earlier in his career, he worked at Devonshire Investors (the private equity group of Fidelity Investments), McKinsey and Company in its U.S. and India offices, and at Berkeley Process Control (acquired by Moog Inc), where he built machine automation systems. Aggarwal holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley, and an M.B.A. from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Mike Oitzman, Editor, Robotics, WTWH Media
Mike Oitzman is Editor of WTWH’s Robotics Group and founder of the Mobile Robot Guide. Oitzman is a robotics industry veteran with 25-plus years of experience at various high-tech companies in the roles of marketing, sales and product management.
Daniel Theobald, Chairman & Founder, Vecna Robotics
Daniel Theobald is the Chairman and founder of Vecna Robotics, a flexible, intelligent material handling automation company. Daniel has decades of experience leading research scientists and teams of engineers in developing cutting-edge technology. He has 67 issued patents and more than 30 patents pending.
Daniel has been at the forefront of robotics for more than 20 years, working closely with DARPA, DOD, NASA, NIH, USDA and many others to advance the use of robots and AI software to improve supply chain automation. In addition to founding Vecna Robotics, Daniel also co-founded MassRobotics, a non-profit dedicated to the global advancement of the robotics industry and Twisted Fields, an organic research farm dedicated to the advancement of automation in agriculture to allow humanity to farm sustainably—as nature intended—while still meeting the demands of modern agriculture. Daniel is dedicated to the idea that technology can be used to empower people worldwide to live more fulfilling lives.
Oliver Mitchell, Partner, ff Venture Capital
Oliver Mitchell is a partner at ff Venture Capital. Oliver first joined ff VC in 2014 as a Limited Partner, and then in 2018 as a Venture Partner. Today, he takes a leading role on the investment team in expanding the portfolio’s deep tech position with holdings in robotics, drones, artificial intelligence, and industrial automation technologies.
Oliver also works with ffVC’s investor relations in forging strategic relationships for our limited partners and corporate venture groups. In addition, he serves on the boards of CivRobotics, Cambrian Intelligence, AppBind, Storyfit, and Cardflight.