Jetpack the Story, Part 1 Init
“the freshest and the bestest ever stepped on the scene”
of robotics startups and other lifestyle companies. The motivation to write it up is to send a message to our past selves that would have helped to get a clear picture quickly on several occasions. Maybe this can be leveraged by other people too who are facing similar situations now or in the future.
In July 2019 a decade of weaving threads came together as a single piece when me and Matthias Kubisch founded the Berlin based robotics startup Jetpack Cognition Lab, Inc. as a Delaware, US corporation. We have come a long way to see this happen, and by overflow and inertia it took quite some time for me personally to realize the full importance of this formally inconspicuous step. The writing of the story is usually lagging behind reality by a few months.
We got to know each other few years back during our undergraduate studies. Later on both of us were pursuing a PhD in robotics at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and we intensified our discourse. Faced with economic necessities and career choices each one of us had independently developed a favor for the entrepreneurial path. Discussing that, it soon became clear that we were going to create some kind of robotics business together as the most attractive and even necessary perspective.
When my employment at HU ended in mid 2017, the pursuit of that idea jumped to a new level of intensity. Over the next two years we did a couple of experiments joining other startups to learn and try out some ideas about business development we had come up with.
After a wild ride packed with lessons from mid to end of 2018 we came into the new year fully committed and ballistic about building our own company from scratch. Only then we were finally convinced that we would easily be capable of running our own thing and in particular to handle all the business aspects of it. Next, we were out to spec the project and get us funded.
In the German research ecosystem the EXIST grant is a popular instrument to help scientists with entrepreneurial ambitions to transform their research into an innovation based business. It is a stipend to fund a team of three people for one year to develop an early business plan. We started out on that track and were busy working on our concept and deriving a grant proposal from that all through Q1/2019. As a team of two techies (at least on paper) we quickly faced the issue of having to have a business head on the team on order for the funding body to take our proposal serious.
In the course of writing up the concept we started to look at small funding tickets on the order of 10-50K. Funding of this order of magnitude can be received from several public initiates like the Prototype Fund in Germany, or from a respectable crowdfunding campaign. Microfunding can be observed as a larger trend in state of the art innovation culture. The clear advantage of small tickets is the large amount of psychological pressure it takes out for all parties involved. This greatly accelerates decisions by raising the confidence on the founder side and lower the risk on the investor side.
Sometime between Jan and Feb 2019 we got in touch with Thomas Schranz aka Tosh via our mutual connection and lead-investor-to-be Oskar Obereder. At the time Tosh was working on the magic fund, which was introduced to us as a microfund for technology and AI focussed startups. We started to integrate the option but were still fully committed to plan A, apply for the EXIST grant. We delayed our negotiations so we wouldn’t rule out downstream options in governmental funding programs by tainting the company with wild private investments. The plan was to keep the option open until the stipend would be granted to us and only then pull the plug and move forward.
how we were lucky with our investors and private funding overtook EXIST
We met up a few times with the private funding consortium during May and June 2019. Clearly remember one meeting where we ended up sitting in front of a Kreuzberg Späti near U Schlesisches Tor, getting infused by Tosh on most of the general ideas we later used to actually initialize and build the company. These episodes lead up to our screening by Oskar and Wendelin Weingartner in Feinkost Minutillo’s Biergarten in ACUD. The screening went reasonably well and we ended up with a solid handshake agreement on the scope and stakes of the project.
It was striking to get very positive feedback during these sessions and to receive quite bad one from the pre-evaluations of our grant application both at the same time. At this point we effortlessly made the decision to swap our options and to pursue private equity microfunding instead of the public program, simply for the pace and simplicity at which decisions can be made.
The handshake agreement on funding and building Jetpack is where part one ends. The story continues in part two which contains the record of the mechanics of incorporation and the first few steps after that. In part three we describe how the company was registered as a local business in Germany.