Chicago Startup Takes Latest TechLaunch BullPen

A Chicago startup captured top honors at TechLaunch Bullpen #24 on May 24 for its robotics solutions designed to improve materials handling at factories and manufacturing plants.

Instead of disorder on the factory floor, Ant Robotics “cuts costs by moving safely among live workers while reducing the possibility of risky operations,” said CEO Max Antonenko.

With the technology, fleets of autonomous, self-driving robotic units and orchestration-software systems operate in unison, thus perfectly fitting into frequently changing manufacturing environments, said Antonenko.

“We all know the problem: Manufacturers cannot hire enough people for moving parts and materials between machines. We propose a robotic worker who can manage traditional manual pallet jacks, exactly like humans do, with no additional equipment required,” Antonenko said.

Before the winner was selected, the event’s four judges took a look at his pitch and two other startup pitches. The judges included Jill Johnson, cofounder and CEO of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, in Newark; Jonathan Hakakian, cofounder and managing partner of the SoundBoard Venture Fund (Montclair); Stephanie Fowler, a member of the Harvard Business School Alumni Angels of Greater New York and Golden Seeds (New York); and Jeffrey Weinstein, an experienced executive and entrepreneur.

When the dust settled, Ant Robotics was named the winner of the Investors Award.

“ANT Robotics stood out because the company has a working prototype, solved a real industry need, has some revenue, addressed a $4 billion market size and, most importantly, has a highly qualified team,” said Mario Casabona, who founded TechLaunch (Kinnelon) in 2012.

The two other mentored tech startups were PigPug Health, based in Brooklyn, and CyberGRC, located in South Plainfield.

PigPug Health is an AI drug-free telemedicine brain-training platform for children with autism and attention deficit disorder. CyberGRC helps regulated industries achieve compliance, securely and at an affordable cost, through a patent-pending technology product.

The awards include $15,000 in advisory services from event partners Withum (Princeton), Gibbons P.C. (Newark), Casabona Ventures (Kinnelon) and Gearhart Law (Summit); and pitch meetings at JumpStart New Jersey Angel Network (New Brunswick), Westchester Angels (White Plains), SoundBoard Venture Fund and Tech Council Ventures (Summit), event organizers said.

Casabona said that the connections investors make during the event, and afterwards, are invaluable.

All told, TechLaunch, known as New Jersey’s first tech accelerator, has supported more than 200 tech companies, mentored over 300 budding entrepreneurs and has over 150 mentors in its network.

Antonenko said the company took its name from ants, and for good reason. “They can carry 10 to 50 times their body weight, and they are hive minded.”

“My team has been building robots for more than 10 years,” he said. “Today, their passion and expertise have brought to life the innovative robotic pallet movers, which cost manufacturers just a fraction of a labor costs,” Antonenko said.

 “We are preparing for a contract with a truck parts maker,” he said. “It will employ six robots.” 

“There are more companies in our pipeline. We are raising money to accelerate our research and development and produce more robots and execute pilots,” Antonenko added, “It was a big honor to be a finalist in TechLaunch’s BullPen. Every step of the competition process brought me a lot of value, from improving my deck with mentor Peter Kestenbaum to getting post-mortem feedback from the panel of judges. We have already started using the updated pitch deck in interviews with investors.”

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