With each of our innovator stories, we get a chance to meet the people behind EU-funded ideas, which have the potential to change our future for the better.
In our newest feature, we share an enlightening discussion we had with Fotis Dimeas, who is the co-founder and CEO of Progressive Robotics.
After an impressive showcase at Dealflow.eu’s University Spin-offs E-pitching event, Fotis provided insights into his company’s mission. Progressive Robotics originated as a spin-off from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. The company is dedicated to democratizing robotics, ensuring that even small and medium-sized businesses can easily embrace this technology.
“By making cheaper robots, factories will have the tools they need to stay competitive. Eventually, robots are those that are going to save jobs because the factory is not going to close.“
Tell us more about yourself and your work?
I am Fotis Dimeas, I am a mechanical engineer and I have a PhD in Human-Robot Interaction.
For the past seven years I have been working as a researcher at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and, through the collaborations we had with manufacturers, we found that there is a gap between what we are doing in the academia and what is needed in the industry.
The problem is that through research grants (for example, Horizon 2020), in the projects we were developing, technology was taken up to TRL 5 or 6, but the market required a TRL that was 2 steps higher. Within this valley of death, the market cannot come into the academia. Therefore, we decided that we would spin off from the university in order to take our technology to the market.
Currently, in Progressive Robotics, the company that we recently founded as a university spinoff from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, we are building software that makes robots smarter for a production line.
What problem is your product solving and what makes its solution unique?
We found out that manufacturers want to put robots in their production, but it is too expensive because the robots take a long time to program, and they require custom hardware. We have technology that can teach a robot by demonstration how to do packaging applications. By combining vision with AI systems, we can offer an easy-to-use solution that offers high flexibility to the end-user. The robot is no longer blind, you can teach it within seconds instead of months and the robot can carry out a task more flexibly than traditional manufacturing systems with robots.
Regarding our unique value proposition, we can claim right now that we have the most easy-to-use way to program a robot with no code programming for packaging and palletizing tasks.
How did you start your journey, and where are you now on the road to achieving your ambition?
We started from academia, and I see myself as a practical guy that wants to see my research be taken out into the real world. As the market is not going to come to us, we have to go to the market.
In that sense, we took the decision with Professor Zoe Doulgeri and another cofounder, Marios Kiatos, to transition into the entrepreneurship world.
Currently, me and Marios have quit our jobs at the university, and we are now full-time in the company. Progressive Robotics recently closed its first funding round, a pre-seed round by Genesis Ventures. This funding will give us the tools that we need in order to validate our technology into the market and also validate our business model.
What’s the biggest impact EU-funding has had on your journey so far, and can you specify an outcome?
EU funding had a great impact because the technology that we have developed so far and that we are trying to commercialize through Progressive Robotics is partially the result of Horizon 2020 projects in manufacturing. At least four years of research were funded by EU projects and the other part is from nationally funded projects.
This funding was very helpful for us to first develop our technology, then be able to test it in experimental and lab setups with partners from the EU, and mostly end-users and manufacturers who are very interested in what we are doing.
Have you already tested your product with clients? What was it like?
That is what we are doing at the moment. We are talking with system integrators and food manufacturers from Greece and EU in order to put our technology to the test and see not only in lab environments but in the actual production line.
This is our focus right now. These are our pilots, but they are actually real scale installations or hopefully they will be.
What is your company’s greatest achievement to date?
I believe it was our success in securing pre-seed funding at a very early stage, we did not even have a legal entity, personnel, clients, nor an MVP.
All we had was an idea and a lab prototype, and this was enough to convince some investors to invest in what we are doing.
And what made it more successful for us was the fact that we started from university. We did not have any background in entrepreneurship, so we believe it was one of the greatest successes we had so far regarding what we are trying to achieve with this technology.
How do you see your company making a difference in the future?
When we visited many factories (small, medium or large size factories), we asked the production managers what their biggest problems were, and their answer was that they could not find people to work there.
Working in a factory is very hard and finding people to work there and do heavy lifting day and night is very difficult. If these factories do not automate now their solutions, they will have problems with the competition and they might be taken out of business.
By making robots smarter and easier to use makes them eventually cheaper. By making them cheaper, factories will have the tools they need to stay competitive. Eventually, robots are those that are going to save jobs because the factory is not going to close.
Why is participating in Dealflow.eu’s e-pitching event and receiving their coaching important to you?
Recently, through the Dealflow.eu program, we had the chance to pitch our ideas and what we are doing in the company to big investors and potential stakeholders.
We participated in the Dealflow.eu University Spin-offs E-pitching Event. There were more than 30 people who were involved in VCs companies, and we made some connections. These initiatives take time to see the results, but so far, we have a really good outcome.
How would you define success and what keeps you going in the pursuit of it?
By definition, success is achieving your targets. Therefore, it depends on how high you set your targets.
If you set them too high, you might never reach them, you must set intermediate milestones, so when you reach them, there will be some small success, small victories in your journey. Ultimately, in order to be able to pursue the best of you and of the company and everyone who is involved in it, you need to aim really high, otherwise, if you set the eventual goal and you reach it, what are you going to do next?
I believe that we should aim farther and set intermediate goals in order to celebrate every once in a while.
About Innovator Spotlight Stories
The aim of innovator stories is to highlight and share with investors and relevant stakeholders in the industry, insights, and unique stories from some of the most innovative EU-funded project that Dealflow.eu is proud to support.
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Disclaimer: Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.