Robotics and AI Get Their Own ‘Startup Escalator’

by Nancy DuVergne Smith on September 14, 2017 · 1 comment

in Alumni Life, Management

In 2011, Fady Saad SM ’13 arrived at MIT from Egypt with a desire to understand how companies form and grow. While he had a substantial business career and many connections in North Africa and Europe, in the US “my network was zero persons,” he says. The System Design and Management program was a perfect fit, though, and now, seven years later, the 37-year-old is being honored as a leader in the emerging robotics world as one of the Boston Business Journal’s outstanding “40 Under 40.”

MassRobotics, co-founded by Fady Saad SM '13, provides support and education for startups.

MassRobotics, co-founded by Fady Saad SM ’13, supports tough tech startups.

What caught the BBJ’s attention? Soon after graduation, Saad was working for Vecna Technologies when he began sharing ideas about how to overcome the substantial handicaps known to slow the launch of robotics companies. Those difficulties include the need for expensive equipment, large spaces, extensive development time, and specialized industry advice. In 2014, he and four others—including Stephen Paschall SM ’04; Tye Brady SM ’99; Daniel Theobald ’95, SM ’98; and Joyce Sidopoulos—co-founded MassRobotics as a way to provide that dedicated environment. Fady calls it a “startup escalator” designed to help innovators in tough technologies, like wearables, medical devices, and robotics, to get support any time they are ready to move from prototyping to productisation. Today, MassRobotics houses 18 robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) companies in 15,000 sq. ft. of space in Boston’s Seaport Innovation District; 25 corporate sponsors invest in the work and advise the startups on commercialization and fundraising.

MassRobotics now houses 18 robotics and AI startups in spacious quarters in Boston's Innovation District.

MassRobotics now houses 18 robotics and AI startups in Boston’s Innovation District.

The Boston Business Journal award recognizes the entire MassRobotics organization, Saad says. “They acknowledge what we are doing at MassRobotics as one of the driving forces shaping the city now and in the future. It’s the founders, staff, volunteers, partners, startups and board—the whole team. I was fortunate and blessed to have such an amazing community,” he says. “It’s the city, it’s MIT, and it’s the connections I made while at Sloan.”

Looking ahead, Saad says that the new challenges in robotics are not about the technology, but about the social and ethical challenges. Questions arise about regulation and taxation, fear of job loss or hacking, and even weaponizing robots. “At MassRobotics, we are trying to have discussions about these things. We have a book club and a library in the space. The majority of the books are not technical books, but more on the ethics of robotics and the social aspects. We have regular meetings to discuss these topics. Startups need facilities and financing, but it’s also important to help them think about these challenging topics.”

Saad is also addressing broader issues in his new role as an advisor to Rewired AI Studio, a UK/Switzerland-based venture capital group that invests in sensing technologies. “What got me interested was that they don’t just want to make profitable investments, but there is a very strong emphasis on technology that can change lives and make things better. This is the balanced approach we need to have in startups.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Daniel Theobald September 18, 2017 at 8:46 am

Fady has been 100% dedicated to the success of MassRobotics from the first day we came up with the idea. The goal of the organization above all is to ensure that robotics technology benefits everyone on this planet. Helping startups succeed, helping investors make good investments, helping young people get interested in technology, and facilitating dialogue about the role of robotics in our society are all important activities in obtaining that goal. I am excited to see MassRobotics playing a significant and positive role in shaping the world of tomorrow.

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