How botloka Consumer Robotics Company making Indigenous robots
“If the journey of startups is hard, the journey of deep-tech startups is incredibly so.” That’s Pooja Ravishankar, founder of Bengaluru-based Botloka, a venture trying to innovate in robotics to make our day-to-day lives easier. The name is a combination of bot (robot) & loka (world in Sanskrit) – world of robots.
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Funding, she says, is difficult. The space requires “patient capital”, because building such products requires long gestation periods, & you need to spend time on research. “The ecosystem is not fully developed yet. But things are changing & more startups like ours are emerging. Still, it has been extremely hard,” she says. Pooja has to date funded the project herself, though she’s also got some government grants.
Incubated at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Botloka is Pooja’s attempt to democratise robotics. “It’s the future. I think real magic can be created when we combine the software promise with hardware,” she says. “Already, what we have been able to achieve has been significant – from zero, we have created an interdisciplinary product that combines three fields of engineering – hardware, mechanical & software.
We understood what we need to do, defined the problem, started experimenting, conducted research, & then set up the supply chain. It has been such an arduous journey, but it has been exciting & very satisfying.” The team’s first home-convenience product, a robotic vacuum cleaner, will enter trials in a few months.
Pooja studied electronics engineering from Ramaiah Institute of Technology, Bengaluru, & did her MBA from ICFAI Business School. She worked with Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (Karnataka) as manager, Tesco Hindustan Service Centre as accounts executive, & then joined BigBasket, where she headed the data science team.
“I spent more than a half-decade there & saw how they operated, how they worked, how they built things from an idea, how they got people behind an idea & built a company, & stayed the course. I imbibed those entrepreneurial traits, & that was very useful when I started Botloka,” she says. “But, of course, when you are doing it yourself, when you’re the sole founder, in reality it becomes a lot harder.”
Women are wary
While Pooja is making her mark in deep tech, she realises that gender bias is deep-rooted in society. “Parents would like their girls to join only established companies, like MNCs. If it is a small startup, especially companies like mine that are into deep research, they don’t allow them to take that risk,” she says.
Pooja wanted to hire women when she started. So she told colleges that she was looking for female candidates. “But I did not get too many. The girls understood, ‘Okay, this will take time’. They don’t want to take that risk. Even when I was in BigBasket, it took a Shah Rukh Khan as brand ambassador for the parents to have trust in the company, to make them think it isn’t going to go bust,” she says.
A lot of parents, she says, are fine with their daughters going abroad, but when they are in India, the parents want to control what they do, where they study, & where they work. “There is still a long way to go for us,” she says.
This hasn’t stopped Pooja from dreaming big. “We believe in the India story, & we think that Botloka can be one of those companies that can make India the centre for robotics research & manufacturing. There are a lot of robotics startups in the B2B space, but in B2C, there are hardly any Indian startups with their own IP (intellectual property); there is a proliferation of Chinese robots. We’re here to change that,” she says.
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