Hey! Want to make robots, like Silas Adekunle? First, get your Hands Dirty
Some fifteen years ago, Reach Robotics Limited co-founder and CEO, Silas Adekunle, relocated with his family to the UK from a town in the southwestern part of Nigeria. Afterwards, Adekunle’s passion for engineering, biology and electronics led him to study Robotics Technology at the University of the West of England, where he graduated with first class honours.
While in the University, he founded Reach Robotics in 2013, combining robotics gaming and augmented reality to create a new product serving the education and entertainment markets. His UK-based startup built the first gaming robots, the globally-acclaimed Mekamon.
Mekamon is a real-life robot which interfaces with an app and actually plays (read fights) on the floor of your living room. According to Techcrunch, “MekaMon uses the camera on our smartphones to identify and track itself through an accompanying app. The app serves as the control center for steering the bots and firing weapons. Battles begin on a mat that is approximately two feet by three feet. From this point on, the bots can go anywhere — including hiding behind furniture while attempting to outmaneuver each another”.
26 year-old Adekunle was a speaker at this year’s edition of Techplus, an annual tech gathering in Nigeria held between July 6 and 8 2017, in Lagos. He had a brief chat with Outrepreneurs on the sideline, where he talked about his journey into the world of robotics and his company’s plans for the future.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Silas Oludotun Adekunle. I grew up in Nigeria. I considered my formative years to have been spent here. I was staying in Ede, Osun State. My family relocated to United Kingdom when I was 11.
How did your foray into robotics start?
My journey into robotics started with a passion for engineering, electronics and biology. So, robotics is the way to combine all of those things, basically.
How did you come about establishing Reach Robotics?
Reach Robotics started four years ago, while I was in the university. I saw an opportunity to create a unique product and bring that to the market. We created an early stage prototype. It allowed us to secure financing from investors overseas and also made us to take the product to a higher level. We now manufacture in China and are about to go into retail this year.
Why were you able to attract investors at the early stage?
It was because we were bold enough to do something new. We are combining three fields that make sense and complement one another. No one else has done that before.
What were the challenges you faced when you started out?
The challenges were similar to what any startup will face: doubt and lack of resources and capital. You have to think outside the box. There were also geographical constraints. But, there are no challenges that are insurmountable; you just have to find a way.
What has being a startup co-founder made you discover about yourself?
I think it brings the best out of me. You don’t know you can work two days without sleeping until you do it. You realize you are capable of doing whatever is needed to make the company run. Also, you learn that you can learn. I never picture myself doing business. I pictured myself as an engineer. My background was engineering, but as I wanted to make this product and bring it to the market, I realized that it was a whole lot. The business has to make sense. And if I am going to pitch to investors, I have to be able to speak their language. How are they going to believe in the company when I don’t understand who I am selling to and how I am going to sell to them? So, it was a realization that there is a lot more than just creating or doing the engineering.
How will you describe the learning curve you went through during the early phase of the business?
It was tough, but by taking an engineering approach to it, you learn, learn and learn again. You do this by going to the internet, networking events and reinforcing what you have learnt. You communicate with other people. You have to learn and expose yourself to environments that will allow you to use that knowledge. Otherwise, it is wasted.
What should Nigeria start doing in moving technology forward?
We should have more events like Techplus. It is brilliant to see some young minds hungry and ready to approach the challenges of the 21st Century, using programming to solve day-to-day problems. I think that is amazing and the more we do that, the more Nigeria can perform close to a level-playing field with other countries around the world.
What is your advice for young people going into robotics?
My advice to them: just tinker and get your hands dirty. I used to take apart radio. They should take things apart, understand how they work and put them back together. The skills can be picked up on the internet. That is the beauty of today. You can learn them. Those are programming, electronics, mechanical engineering and math. Those are the foundational skills that you need, especially the embedded software programming. Embedded software programming is software designed to run on a microchip inside another device.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt as an entrepreneur?
The biggest lesson I have learnt is that people are everything. People will make or break your team. Whenever there is a challenge in a business, it is usually people. Spend time investing in that. It is important to invest in yourself, on your team and in relationships.
How many staff do you have in Reach Robotics?
At the moment, they are 15. They will be 40 before the end of this year.
What is the worth of the company?
That is private information. I try not to let that out. But we are doing well and we thank God.
When will your gaming product be available in Nigeria?
That is part of why I am here. I love Nigeria and I am looking at how I can be more involved reaching out to people to be more involved in the long time as well. I am actually talking to local distributors that can bring our products in the future, to Nigeria.
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Deji Aroloye47 Posts
a graduate of Linguistics and a staff writer at Outrepreneurs, Deji's forte includes tech, startups and innovations. Years back, Deji wrote on Entertainment and Lifestyle for a tabloid. If he wasn't a writer, Deji would be a photographer or teacher.