#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Fady Saad, MassRobotics, Co-Founder and Director of Partnerships
This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.
Domo Arigato, Mr. MassRobotics
Fady Saad is the co-founder and director of Partnerships at MassRobotics, innovation hub and startup cluster focused on the needs of the robotics community. As leader in New England and the U.S., MassRobotics has attracted attention from policymakers, locally, nationally and even internationally - including receiving over two million dollars from the state government. Working to fix the innovation gap for innovators in the robotics space, MassRobotics lowers the barrier for startups to build and prototype their ideas. However, Fady hopes policymakers continue to invest in robotics innovation to maintain an international lead in robotics. Government involvement can signal to other players that this is an area of importance.
Tell me about you. What’s your background? Why did you start MassRobotics?
I’m from Egypt, and I’m a mechanical engineer by training. I became interested in startups and developing new ways of creating and scaling communities. I did my graduate studies at MIT to look at internal and external success factors for companies, where we focused on designing and modeling startups as adaptive complex systems and understanding the effect of entrepreneurship ecosystems on these startups' viability.
After that I was the strategy, research, and business development director of Vecna Technologies, where I supported the development of the company’s robotics R&D strategy, funding, and commercialization activities. That is where we got the idea for MassRobotics and we have scaled it to be the largest robotics hub in the world.
What is your role in Boston’s startup ecosystem?
MassRobotics is the leading AI and robotics organization in New England and maybe even in the US or worldwide. We have started to work internationally, and we have had delegations tour our facilities. We are honing a concentration and critical mass of innovation to encourage creation of robotics startups and scaling others.
Tell me about Mass Robotics.
MassRobotics is the collective work of a group of Boston-area engineers, rocket scientists, and entrepreneurs. It is an innovation hub and startup cluster focused on the needs of the robotics community. MassRobotics’ mission is to help create and scale the next generation of successful robotics and connected device companies by providing entrepreneurs and innovative robotics/automation startups with the workspace and resources they need to develop, prototype, test, and commercialize their products and solutions.
We work with companies that are prototyping to production. We do not work with very early stage companies; those companies are better suited with incubators or accelerators. MassRobotics focus on robotics and AI companies, and we operate a coworking space, as well as a lab space. This helps minimize cost and lowers cost to entry for entrepreneurs.
Why’d you get started in Boston?
In Boston, there’s incubators, accelerators, universities and venture capital funds, but not a lot of successful robotics companies. If you are a software company with proof of concept, you are good to go and can start growing. If you are robotics company, and even if you have proof and prototype, you need so much more. That creates a gap in the innovation for the city. That’s where MassRobotics comes in.
What makes Boston an ideal place to start a company?
In general, there are three reasons. The first reason is the abundance of amazing institutions and top-notch talent from all over the world. The passion and drive is something you cannot recreate. The second reason is there are many active VCs. Finally, the culture is prime in Boston. There is a lot of support. Boston has a strong community, culture, events, meetups, and social activities, such as Techstars and Greentown Labs.
If you focus specifically on starting a robotics company, Massachusetts is unique. There is a concreation of successful robotic companies, such as iRobot, Brooks Automation and Boston Dynamics. Add to that the academics in the area, such as MIT and the University of Massachusetts. It is all very encouraging.
What’s the most exciting or important development that has happened to the Boston ecosystem in the last year?
MassRobotics! Last year, 2017, was our first year, and in such a short time, we gained a lot of momentum. We received over two million dollars from the state government for expansion and MassRobotics has more than 30 startups working in our space.
Are there specific public policies or government initiatives that have enabled startup growth in Boston?
Overall, the state of Massachusetts is very supportive of startups and entrepreneurs. They have been investing heavily in incubators. In addition, there is a focus on biotech; the state committed one billion in the budget for biotech. They are also building out infrastructure to position Boston and Massachusetts as a leader.
Investment is now focusing on robotics. While it is not as large as we want, over two million is not a bad start. If we want to maintain a lead in robotics, for United States and the world, we need to see more investment.
I know the Mayor came to your ribbon cutting. Other than that, how involved are your government representatives in the Boston startup space?
Government representatives are very involved in different capacities. At MassRobotics, we do not want the government involved in programming, but we do want the support for infrastructure. Government involvement can signal to other players that this is an area of importance. MassRobotics had the honor of hosting the Metropolitan Mayor’s Coalition with Governor Charlie Baker and the Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack to test autonomous vehicles. This event marked the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate further testing of autonomous vehicles in the Greater Boston Area.
From a policy perspective, do you have any wishlist items for the startup ecosystem?
We have been pushing for policy and support for robotics/AI. Robotics are quickly becoming very, very important. We have a short opportunity to maintain our lead. It behooves us to make bold and sustainable steps around AI. We need a focus on funding and education.
In addition, I would like to see a change in non-compete agreements in Massachusetts. Similar to California, a change would allow cross-pollination for startups. Talent needs to be mobile and move from one place to other. It is a key way to accelerate innovation.
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