Two months after moving to Canada from Italy in March of 2016, Sougata Pahari co-founded Korechi through the incubation process at Hamilton’s McMaster Innovation Park.
“We started by building autonomous robots to measure the thickness of lake ice and indicate whether it was safe to walk or skate on it,” said Pahari. At the onset, their process involved a robot drilling a small hole into the ice to take readings. If the ice is too thin or has a crack, the robot would dispense a biodegradable red paint to warn people. “We realized that the market size isn’t big enough, so we pivoted three months later and focused on redesigning the robot to paint lines in sports facilities – like football and soccer,” he added.
Pahari and his team made several prototypes that went through rigorous tests. It was during this phase that they realized that they had gained expertise in designing rugged platforms that can move with cm-level precision in outdoor environments. “We then started looking at other prominent industries where such a platform could be indispensable and landed on the agriculture and defence sectors where the large demand makes it logical for us to invest our time and energy,” said Pahari.
Sougata Pahari, Co-Founder & CEO, Korechi Innovations Inc. was selected as a Vanguard Game Changer for the February/March 2019 issue.
How is your organization changing the game within your industry sector?
Korechi engages in designing, development and manufacturing of autonomous rugged robots for use in outdoor environments. We operate predominantly in the precision agriculture and facilities maintenance space at the moment. Our design approach of single platform and multiple modular add-ons has been well-received by the industry. We also realize that most people have no coding experience, so we have made an intuitive graphical user interface that practically anybody can use with little or no training, which is very apt for the industries that we are targeting. These robots tend to perform tasks which are typically repetitive and mundane, thus saving both human and financial resources.
What is your role at your organization today?
I am the co-founder and CEO of Korechi. I develop the short-term and long-term strategies of the company and communicate with investors and government entities. However, like in all startups in our position, each person in the organization has a wide range of responsibilities such as sales, technical design, accounting, project management and HR.
What was your most challenging moment?
The first few months after founding Korechi, I played it safe. I had a regular job. I realized that wouldn’t work for long. Making the leap to work full-time on my own startup, foregoing a secure job, less than six months after moving to a new country was the toughest decision I have ever made.
What was your “aha” moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader? Tell us that story.
Through numerous interactions with potential customers, we realized that they needed automation to perform different tasks. Our “aha” moment came when we realized that these tasks were only slightly different, and we could focus on developing a common platform and then make different add-on modules for specific tasks.
What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?
The immense potential for automation to change our lives is very exciting. Imagine the advantages of a highly-adaptive workspace made super-efficient, safe and reliable using robotics and AI. I believe we are in the right space at the right time to make the most of this opportunity.
What is the best advice you received?
Don’t sell yourself short!
What is a habit that contributes to your success?
The startup culture is quite unique; it takes a considerable amount of time and endless effort to fulfill your vision. One must be very persistent to survive this lifestyle. I wasn’t born persistent, but I have made it a habit now, and it has definitely had a positive impact.
What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your industry sector?
Innovation requires investment; there are few VCs in Canada at the moment making significant investments in robotics – particularly in agriculture and defence industries. Also, there is the classic “egg and chicken” problem: you need the investment to get your products to the customers, but you need existing customers to get the investment.
How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture, and how is it being optimized?
We run on a shoe-string marketing budget, which makes it essential for us to grab the customers’ attention through innovative products and services. Innovative problem-solving approaches like design thinking allow us to punch above our weight and achieve more with less.
What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?
Certain industries like farming in Canada already see a decline in people willing to practice the profession while the demand for food has never been greater. The ongoing trend of automation will alleviate some of these problems. We believe Artificial Intelligence has a huge potential to drive change across all industries. The impact can already be seen in some roles such as Human Resources and Customer Service. At Korechi, we have ongoing research for use of AI in improving the performance of our products, which results in a much better customer experience.
What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?
I admire Apple’s approach to innovation and their ability to market their products. Be it the iPod or iPhone or even the iPad. They seldom fail to excite their customers.
What is your parting piece of advice?
It is important to be focused in today’s marketplace; however, it is also essential to research complimentary industries where your products or services could find use.