Spotlight on: Root Robotics, StartHub's Startup to Watch for November 2018

November 21, 2018

Each month as part of StartHub Startups to Watch Program we connect with the winning company to learn more about them. Our November Startup to Watch is Root Robotics, a robotics startup on a mission is to make learning to code accessible to any age. Recently we had the pleasure of interviewing Zivthan "Zee" Dubrovsky, CEO of Root Robotics Here’s what we learned:

Tell us about your company. What is Root Robotics?

We want to help kids around the world reach their fullest potential.

Root Robotics combines robots, content, and apps together into a cohesive learning platform aimed at solving coding education. Our robot, Root, is a fun and easy-to-use creativity tool for kids as young as four and is expandable up to adults.

Subscribers of Root’s app get lessons and projects every month that transform coding lessons into fun problem-solving activities. Teachers and parents with no coding background can use Root’s app with their kids beginning with simple sequences and patterns and working up to real programming languages.

What is your background?

I'm a robotics veteran from the early days of iRobot where I helped develop the original Roomba. As the company grew, I held roles leading advanced development projects and transitioned to managing the P&L of the Roomba business. After iRobot went public, I joined Sonos to lead their go-to-market strategy and development of their mass market product lineup. Most recently, I led robotics commercialization efforts at Harvard University where I worked alongside faculty to take the research with the most potential and reduce them to practice (Root was one of these projects).

How did you come up with the idea for Root Robotics? Who is your target customer?

Root started in the robotics lab of Professor Radhika Nagpal at Harvard University. At first, Radhika wanted a robot on her classroom whiteboard to erase her whiteboard but when we saw the first prototype driving around, we realized that this is something special. We realized that we can use the whiteboard as an arena to introduce robotics, STEM, and coding into any classroom at any grade.

We want our customers to use Root in all the environments where kids are learning whether at home, in schools, or at after-school programs. We are hopeful that reaching into early education will make computer science meaningful and accessible to all kids so we can have true diversity in our technological future.

How do you think Root Robotics is going to disrupt the market? What are the main differentiators between you and your competitors?

About 0.5% of the global workforce knows how to code, making it incredibly rare for a parent or educator to know how to teach these skills. We are focused on making it incredibly easy for anyone to start with Root and reach a real endpoint. Root is the only solution that is a learning platform for all ages. The hardware lets kids creatively explore artwork, music, games, and even physically build extensions on top of Root. The hardware also lets teachers instantly setup on the classroom whiteboard and have a teaching moment that adapts to their schedule.

The software is the only app with the Level 1-2-3 system developed at Harvard and the only app in our competitive landscape that has an integrated subscription to keep kids (and teachers) engaged on a learning journey from graphical blocks to text coding.

Why did you decide to start your business in Boston? How long has your company been around?

We are deeply rooted in Massachusetts. Our kids go to school here. The technology was developed here. We are active in the local ecosystem. And most importantly, we would love for MA to be the leading example to all the other states of how to solve STEM and coding education.

Root Robotics was formed in June of 2016 and funded with a $2.5M Series Seed round in May of 2017.

What resources in the startup community have contributed to the success of Root Robotics?

Mass Robotics has been a key partner for networking and developing relationships that are mission aligned. Events they organize in MA has provided us robust introductions into MA schools, government leaders, local entrepreneurs, and industry executives.

LearnLaunch is another terrific resource. We've gone to their events and they have an extremely robust edtech network. Specifically, the LearnLaunch founders know Root well and have made introductions to investors, companies, and potential partners in our space.

The Venture Café keeps us plugged into the entrepreneurial community to efficiently learn about the pulse of technology and local startups. We love the pitch events and the networking that happens in these packed events. Recently, we attended a STEM-focused event where we met Eduporium, a local distributor focused on getting educational robots into schools. Thanks to Venture Café this initial meeting by chance turned into a distribution agreement for Root.

How do you use StartHub professionally?

We recently learned about StartHub through Venture Café. The consolidated list of events in the area is great for spontaneous meetups or workshops, and when we find an event that is relevant or cool, we share it on our company’s slack channel.

I personally think the investor list is a great resource and found myself discovering investors that are local that I didn’t know existed.

Lastly, one of the painful things for any new startup is to find an office to bring your team together under one roof. We looked at dozens of properties before getting lucky on taking over someone else’s lease (with furniture included!). If we didn’t get lucky, I think StartHub list of workspaces would have been incredibly useful with an easily scrollable list with prices, details, and specialties of each workspace. The workspace list is an efficient tool to find the right size space (and most importantly budget!).

What are the next steps for Root Robotics?

We are a software service company emerging out of an amazing piece of hardware. In just a few months since our launch in September 2018, we’ve already seen over 200k coding projects run in our app. Our next steps for our customers is to expand our content portfolio with new lessons and projects that continually make it easier for them to learn in a fun and creative way.

What is the most important thing our readers should know about Root Robotics?

Root is available now for only $199. Classroom packs for schools are $1199 and include everything a teacher needs to bring STEM, coding, and robotics into any grade level.

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