It sounds like the premise of a science-fiction or Bond movie – the head of Russia’s biggest internet company spearheads a global investment fund with the aim of bringing a robot into every home.
But that’s exactly what Dmitry Grishin has in his sights – Grishin Robotics launches today, and in an industry saturated with internet, software and app innovations, this $25m fund (of Grishin’s own money) is either a stroke of genius or absolute madness.
Robotics – the next innovation frontier is offline?
“Robotics is at same stage right now that PCs were in early 80s” says Grishin when asked to explain his change of focus. “There were only a handful of big companies with all the computing power – but lots of smaller ones dabbling with innovations that would ultimately end up in everyone’s home.
“20 years ago it was prohibitively expensive to make robots. But now smartphone and internet innovation can be filtered back to robotics and manufacture can be outsourced to places like China.
“The time is right to make the shift from industrial and military robotics to mass-market products, to invest in those game-changing innovative companies and bring personal robotics technologies into every household.”
A robot butler in every home?
So can we expect an Asimo-like robot butler serving us piña coladas on the holodeck? “We’re not talking about humanoid robots or toys here, but devices that solve real-world problems,” Grishin explains. Again, in the first days of the internet there was lots of really cool technology, but no one really knew what the users wanted or needed.
“We’re looking at the areas of telepresence, domestic use, home security and transport – we want innovation that will save natural resources and also help with the issue of an ageing population in the West, and also to provide innovations young people who crave unique leisure activities.”
The geek that inherited the earth
Grishin’s first love has always been robotics – after graduating with distinction from the Faculty of Robotics and Complex Automation at Moscow State Technical University. He joined Mail.Ru in 2001. Within two years he was CEO, and co-founded the Mail.ru Group in 2005.
Fast forward a few years and Mail.ru Group was the biggest internet player in Russia and Eastern Europe, making Grishin one of the most successful (and richest) businessmen in Russia under 35.
Multi-million business success aside, Grishin’s passion is still tech – he heads up the department of Information Technologies and Programming at St. Petersburg State University and is funder of the Russian Code Cup.
He aims to bring his learnings of online releases to his new offline venture: “My time at Mail.ru taught me that offline industries also need teams that are small and agile, that can bring a product to the market as quickly as possible.
“We want to invest in products that are ready for mass-market implementation, to help companies distribute these succssfully, as well as a broader mission of increasing public awareness of the robotics industry and establishing its relevance for businesses, academic and scientific communities, and the general public.”
No risk, no reward, no innovation
But why not rest on his laurels instead of moving to such a high-risk, high-overhead arena? “Many venture capital firms are very conservative,” says Grishin. “They want to see a proven business model. So you have deadlock – if there’s no money, then no good companies will flourish, if there are no good companies, there’s no money.
“And right now I know that we can make this real –if no-one takes this risk, then nothing will happen. You need risk takers to change the world. Otherwise nothing changes.”
Grishin Robotics launches today.