Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is The BusinessMakers Show, coming to you today from the campus of Rice University where they’re right in the middle of the 2018 Rice Business Plan contest which is known as being the richest university based business contest on the planet. Our topic today is The Indus Entrepreneur – TiE – and how TiE has integrated with the Rice Business Plan Contest. And I’m very pleased to have as my guest Ashok Rao, serial entrepreneur, early stage investor and former Chairman – Global Chairman – of the TiE organization. Ashok, great to have you on the show again.
Ashok: Thanks for having me Russ.
Russ: You bet. Let’s say somebody doesn’t know what The Indus Entrepreneur is, give us an overview.
Ashok: Well TiE is the world’s largest organization of entrepreneurs – 60 cities, 18 countries – devoted to fostering entrepreneurship and mentoring aspiring young entrepreneurs.
Russ: Okay, and how is it involved in the Rice Business Plan Contest?
Ashok: Well this all started kind of like the tendrils of an octopus with two little separate tendrils coming together. I’d been a judge at this competition for 15 years. Several teams from Asia have arrived here during the lifetime of that competition and usually have come in dead last. A number of issues, some of them being cultural, some of them being language. But then when I became Chairman of TiE Global and also the trustee of Rice’s Jones School I chatted with Brad and we came up with a plan, along with my partner the CEO of TiE Global P.K. Agarwal, to create a feeder competition to deliver a quality team from Asia that would gain automatic entry into Rice. The following year we added Europe, so today we get an automatic entry for two teams that Rice feeder competitions deliver to Rice.
Russ: Okay. And the Brad you mentioned is Brad Burke which a lot of people know, the head of the Rice Alliance.
Ashok: The Managing Director of the Rice Alliance.
Russ: Very successful and so you’ve brought a team that is one of the people that won the TiE contest and are participants in this year’s Rice Business Plan Contest.
Russ: Introduce them for us.
Ashok: Well we have WCB Robotics and we have the CEO Ujjawal Aggarwal and the CTO Gokul Anandan who are here from Hyderabad, India. And they are here because what my partner and several other mentors who devote a substantial amount of their time, we run a boot camp for 4 days prior to this competition to teach them how to compete with the likes of Harvard or MIT or Northwestern or Carnegie Mellon, which sometimes is a tough task.
Russ: Absolutely. Okay so tell us about WCB Robotics.
Ujjawal: We at WCB Robotics have built a robot that can climb walls and clean windows.
Russ: Clean windows. So windows are everywhere, are you just talking about any window? Are you talking about skyscrapers?
Ujjawal: We’re talking about skyscrapers, any window actually; it can just climb walls and clean windows.
Russ: And what’s the status of the company today? Do you have an operating model?
Gokul: We have a prototype in place and it works, it climbs walls and it uses a very good suction technology.
Russ: Wow. So what triggered the idea to go with that product?
Gokul: Actually the idea came from a strange place; the idea came from my little sister. She was 5 years then and she was continuously asking for a car that moves on walls.
Russ: So is she assuming she’s going to be cut in on the success?
Russ: So you’ve mentioned you have a prototype. We have a controller here which means we’ve got the prototype here too, why don’t you give us a demonstration?
Russ: Very impressive. So would it have kept going say this was a twenty story building?
Gokul: Yeah, it would go up to 20, 30, 100.
Russ: And have you done that yet?
Gokul: We have gone up to four but we did not get a higher building.
Russ: All right. And what’s it doing to clean the building? You can’t put water in it and stuff that you wash it with can you?
Ujjawal: We are using microfiber cloth currently because most of these skyscrapers have fine dust that can easily be removed using dry microfiber cloth, but we’ll have some abrasive liquid onboard which will be used to remove hard water stains and bird poop.
Russ: All right, well getting all the important stuff off then for sure. Are you still in a fundraising mode?
Gokul: Yes we are.
Russ: Okay, so what are you looking for?
Gokul: We are looking for $600,000 as seed money.
Russ: Okay, and what will the investor get for $600,000?
Gokul: We are raising it as convertible debt so the valuation will be decided later on.
Russ: Okay. And have you shown it to any potential customers?
Gokul: We have. We have shown it to window cleaning service providers in India and we were quoting a high price and even that price at that place was working.
Russ: Well Gokul, Ujjawal, I wish you all the luck in the world. I think that would be a fabulous way to clean the windows on skyscrapers so good luck.
Both: Thank you.
Russ: You bet. You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Gokul and Ujjawal, the founders of WCB Robotics and this is The BusinessMakers Show.
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