Triumphs and Tribulations at Rural Montana Robotics Startup

Greetings! This week we’ve got the scoop on Brandon Smith’s Ronan based company, RoboGnosis.

Brandon migrated north with his family in 2005, and has been living in Ronan ever since. He’s worn many hats over the years, but his current hat is more of an antenna.

Intrigued?

RoboGnosis specializes in “custom autonomous robotic integration”. I, of course, understood this description immediately, being the robot expert that I am. For the sake of my readers though, I figured it would be best if I asked Brandon how he explains RoboGnosis to laypeople like yourselves.

(PS- I’m actually clueless when it comes to robots).

Brandon said:

“I explain RoboGnosis by telling people that we are simply making dumb machines smarter.”

He went on to give the example of taking a lawnmower, and modifying it to mow by itself.

So basically, when intelligent robots take over the world you can blame Brandon. 

But where does one find the inspiration to autotomize robots?

Is Brandon a mad scientist? Well, maybe, but the beginning of RoboGnosis was somewhat mundane compared to the creation of Frankenstein’s Monster, or the next “-inator” of Dr. Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb.

After a killed deal at another company, Brandon and his business partner decided to start their own autonomous integration business.

Everything was smooth sailing from there. (It wasn’t).

According to Brandon, the biggest challenge at the beginning of RoboGnosis was establishing the company’s credibility.

He explained that it can be difficult to prove your service in an industry where everyone is intent on keeping their projects secret. In order to have credibility, clients need to know that you’re actually going to deliver on the service you’ve promised.

Speaking of promises, they also had a hard lesson in how much trust to put in the people who make the promises. After broken promises from government agencies, investors, and clients they had to adjust their methods going forward. Brandon said:

“Now we make things happen ourselves.”

Some of the difficulties of starting a business are universal, but there are unique challenges when it comes to starting a business in a rural area.

One of the biggest challenges came when it was time to connect with clients. Initially, a lot of travelling was required, and as we all know travelling can get really expensive really fast. Fortunately, though, Brandon said they get a lot of business from word of mouth nowadays.

Another unique challenge to starting a business in a rural area, according to Brandon, is technological infrastructure (or lack thereof).

He often has to ship robot parts in from China, which can take upwards of a month to be delivered. When you’re on a deadline, it doesn’t really work to wait that long for a piece.

Additionally, it costs more to buy some things online than in a store. When you live in rural Montana, it’s a lot easier to find a Raspberry Pie than a Raspberry Pi (similar names, drastically different things).

There’s also the difficulty of internet bandwidth. Lake County Montana really doesn’t have it bad compared to some other rural places. Compared to big shiny cities though, the internet is somewhat lacking in terms of speed. When you’re running a high-tech business, this is a problem for obvious reasons.

At this point you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this story.

How could the mad scientist be triumphant in the midst of this adversity?

Has there been no victory? You may even feel as though I’m attempting to dissuade you from a similar business venture.

But fear not, for there has been victory.

Although Brandon couldn’t reveal as much as he would’ve liked about recent wins, they certainly exist. What he could reveal was the satisfaction of “blowing people’s minds” when they saw what robots can do.

There have been fun times too. Brandon created a “bucket bot”, which he explained is essentially a bucket on wheels. The bucket bot is programmed to follow him around, based on a target on his back. Kind of like a Roomba but with more personality and less utility. He said the bot was pretty quickly dismantled for another project but that he would like to rebuild it sometime. He said, “I kind of liked having a personal robot.”

If the prospect of a personal robot doesn’t inspire you to start your own business, I don’t know what will. Lucky for you, I’ve got advice straight from the mind of the mad scientist himself for a prospective rural entrepreneur like you.

 

“Be prepared for the long haul and start organically…Start small, sell it, and expand.”

 

Well, that’s all for today. If this post inspired you, or got your entrepreneurial cogs spinning, please let us know!

You can reach out to the AMRII team by sending an email to karl.unterschuetz@umontana.edu or karlee.snell@mso.umt.edu. We love helping the visions of entrepreneurs come to life.

 

Have a neat-o day and a happy New Year my fine entrepreneurial friends!

By Anya Smith, AMRII Student Ambassador