The battle is on. Things are heating up. And our top 6 have been chosen.
We met one-on-one with the 2021 OKGN Angel Summit’s top 6 to hear their insights into the Summit and their final pitch for the top spot.
Meet Mike Boudreau, founder of TechBrew Robotics in Salmon Arm. Mike has developed an automated vision-guided robotics system that is able to locate and harvest mushrooms. We caught up with Mike to learn more about his inspiration behind the idea, his experience as an entrepreneur and his plans to go the distance.
What problem were you trying to solve when you started TechBrew Robotics?
TechBrew Robotics started as Technology Brewing Corporation because we were brewing technology—that’s where the name comes from. We recently changed our name to TechBrew Robotics because robotics is what we’ve been doing for a while now. We were looking for projects that have repeat potential as it’s difficult to make money when you’re making the first of something. When we stumbled upon the mushroom industry in 2019, we saw it had significant repeat potential. Picking mushrooms is a difficult job and has a lot of turnover. Seeing this, we felt that we should pivot and become a product company that addresses the needs of that market.
Why should your customer be excited about your product?
Just stand and watch a robot work, it’s mesmerizing. Even when I put a video on, people are just glued to what the robots are doing. We’re all fascinated by robots, particularly robots that can adapt to their environment—which is what we’re doing. Vision-guided means that it finds the mushrooms and it goes and picks them. It’s a level of automation that’s still emerging, and we’re one of the pioneers in that space.
Tell us about the success you’ve found already
All of our systems are first-of’s in the world and they’re still the only pieces of technology that are capable of doing what they’re doing with R&D, industrial food-safe compliance and installation. For a small group of people in Salmon Arm, that’s pretty remarkable. When we first looked at the mushroom opportunity, in 2019, we realized that there were so many skeletons of attempted solutions in the industry. We said that the two problems we needed to solve were finding the mushroom and picking it without damaging it. If we could do those two things on a farm, we’d be able to prove to the industry that we weren’t going to be another skeleton. By 2020, we demonstrated that we could solve both of those problems. When we set up our custom-designed robots in two farms in the Fraser Valley, everyone’s heads were spinning. They couldn’t believe how fast we got there.
Why do you choose to grow your business in Salmon Arm?
Some investors have asked if we’d do better in Vancouver or Toronto. My general answer is no. Rush hour means having three cars at the stop sign ahead of you. It takes 5 minutes to get anywhere in town, we’ve got 4 distinct seasons, and you can afford to buy a home here. That all translates into healthier, happier people. The quality of life helps with creativity and the get-it-done atmosphere we have. There’s also an extensive manufacturing supply chain that exists in the valley, which we leverage. That’s why we continue to reside in Salmon Arm.
What kind of expertise is your team bringing to TechBrew Robotics?
Mechatronics—mechanical electrical software—is the sweet spot for robotics. We’ve got all of that. We’ve got machine vision expertise, a PhD in artificial intelligence and machine vision, a PhD and a masters in mechanical engineering, and a couple of MBAs. As far as the academic side goes, we’re covered. We also have a lot of background in different industries which gives us a broad perspective and an ability to come up with solutions quicker than most. We’ve got people from all over the world, too—Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Australia and they’re all moving to Salmon Arm to work for us.
What are your impressions of the OKGN Angel Summit so far?
Before I started TechBrew, I founded the Okanagan Angel Network years ago in Kelowna. Back then, it was more of a novelty. I’m really encouraged to see how active the community is now in Kelowna, and in Western Canada as a whole. It’s great to have the OKGN Angel Summit here in the Interior of BC to educate on how to make an angel investment and how to receive an investment. It’s a marvellous model for the individuals on both sides of the table.
What advice would you give to the participants of next year’s summit?
Get the due diligence checklist first and get to work on it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s very worthwhile to have in place regardless of whether you’re going in front of angel investors or not. It helps get yourself and your business organized the way that they should be.
For tickets, more information, and a complete list of the participating companies, please visit www.okgnangelsummit.com.
Meet the other finalists: