The 2018 finals of Imagine Chemistry recently took place in Gothenburg, Sweden. Ten teams were selected to continue collaborating with AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals or one of our partners. We asked the winners to share their thoughts on Imagine Chemistry and working with AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals. Here we speak with Invert Robotics.

“Typically corporates fiercely defend all of their information, but Imagine Chemistry was the antithesis of that. We were all speaking openly and working to develop a symbiotic relationship where everyone benefits.”

Team name: Invert Robotics
Team members: James Robertson, Robert Mandjes and Hans Prein
Location: The Netherlands
Mentor: Filippo Tabaccanti
Challenge area: Intelligent chemical plants
Award won: Partner support KPMG 

Invert Robotics provides non-destructive inspection services using state-of-the-art mobile climbing robots. Their robots enable precise and accurate remote inspections of surfaces which are difficult or dangerous for humans to access. In so doing, they are helping make inspections safer. Though they found initial success in the New Zealand dairy industry, they now work in several industries with partners around the world.

The company began as a spin-out from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, where founder and CTO James Robertson earned a degree in mechanical engineering. During his studies the university decided to let a student entrepreneur group he was part of try to commercialize some of the university’s unused IP. After about 200 phone calls James learned that the local dairy industry could make use of the inspection robot technology he had adopted. Convinced he was onto something, James started Invert Robotics the day after he graduated. In the video below, he talks about the company and his experience at Imagine Chemistry.

Imagine Chemistry 2018 winners - Invert Robotics

The team was happy to get confirmation that their technology has potential in the chemicals industry. COO Robert Mandjes says, “For us, the KPMG prize is perfect, because it will help us to become a more mature company and get introduced to other companies and industries where we want to go in the future. AkzoNobel and KPMG have shown that they understand the need for a future where people don’t have to go into confined spaces anymore and are helping us in our ambition to make the world safer.”

The team also found the event itself useful. Robert explains, “There’s a lot of startup meetings where you can pitch, but getting to speak to key players in a company in a very relaxed atmosphere where they share their experience and their knowledge is very valuable.” James adds, “I would have spent years trying to gather the information I got during Imagine Chemistry about the problems that AkzoNobel faces and where they could see applications for our system. I would have felt like a winner leaving the event just based on that.”

That openness was a bit different from what the team was used to. James explains, “Typically corporates fiercely defend all of their information, but Imagine Chemistry was the antithesis of that. We were all speaking openly and working to develop a symbiotic relationship where everyone benefits.” As someone who spent 20 years in the corporate world, Robert found the approach refreshing: “I think what AkzoNobel is doing is unique and it’s definitely a way forward.”

In the long run, the team hopes to make a major impact on industry. “At the moment, there are too many instances of people dying in inside confined spaces,” James explains. “We plan to expand from doing inspections to doing other jobs inside confined spaces. That’s far more difficult from a technical perspective, but that’s the goal we’re setting for ourselves. Our vision is to do what we can to make sure that everyone goes home safe every day.”

Up next for the team are meetings with KPMG to iron out the details of their agreement and what type of support KPMG will offer, and an initial inspection with the robot on an AkzoNobel plant is being planned. Stay tuned to find out how their collaboration progresses!