Mathew Walker from OhbotRobot talks to Crowdfunder about why he and Dan Warner decided to crowdfund a robot. The duo are on a mission to bring robotics and programming to schools across the UK and are crowdfunding to make their idea a reality.
Dan (Matthew’s business partner) and I first met in March 2014 as I was putting together a grant funding application for a robot kit for schools and I needed some help on how to integrate it into the National Curriculum. Dan is teacher and ICT specialist with a deep interest in encouraging children to “tinker” in order for them to learn. I am a roboticist and programmer.
We met in a pub in London (where else?) and quickly found a shared passion for robots – the Ohbot concept was born.
We spent the summer of 2014 applying for grants to fund the project and were almost completely unsuccessful. We managed to secure a tiny European grant to pay for a business advisor and he helped us think about what we wanted to achieve and prepare a business plan. I remember our final meeting with him after we had failed yet again on grant funding and he said “well you’ll just have to do it yourselves without any funding”.
Somehow we managed to stick to the business plan by working evenings and weekends around our day jobs. Dan field tested with the wonderful people at Explorium and we somehow managed to win a competition for a reduced price stand in the Futures Zone at the BETT show which is the biggest education technology show of the year so we spent Christmas week building robots and getting the software in shape.
We worked out that in order to hit our price point of less than £100 we would need to manufacture 100 Ohbots and we didn’t want to take the financial risk of getting these made before BETT and selling them from the stand as we had no idea how many people would want to buy one. We decided the perfect solution was to crowdfund our first batch and publicise the campaign at BETT. After investigating the available options we chose Crowdfunder as it has a strong profile in the UK and has an education category. Also, there was no requirement to give equity away, its pledging model means that there’s no risk to us or the people pledging if we don’t reach our target and the charges are reasonable.
We set our Crowdfunder page up very quickly and we’ve been really happy with how it’s gone. We’ve reached 50% of our target already and we’re putting all our effort into publicising it in order to complete within the remaining timeframe. Crowdfunder have been very supportive and have publicised our project through their Twitter feed.
Our top tips for a Crowdfunder campaign are that you have to concentrate on the publicity. We have been pushing hard on Twitter, contacting media and blogs that we think might be interested and also contacting everyone we know to ask if they are interested themselves or know anyone who might be. With hindsight we could have put more thought and time into setting our target. If we’d set a lower target we would be much closer to it now. Some days we think that we’re definitely on track to reach our target and some days we have doubts – it’s certainly a hair-raising ride!
We were attracted to Crowdfunder due to the education category but we think that it’s a great place to launch any technology project. The page format is very open and it’s easy to upload photos and project updates as things move along, the guides are brilliant and we’ve been able to plan our campaign easily. If (when!) the Crowdfunder project is successful we will have built a great community of enthusiasts to help us develop Ohbot to the next level. Who knows, we may even achieve our aim of working on it full time and seeing one in every school in the UK!
If you have a tech project – or any project, start crowdfunding it today: