Running live electric wires through crevices behind walls is dangerous, sometimes deadly work.
That gave Matthew Bilsky, a young contractor pursuing a doctorate at Lehigh University, an idea in 2013.
Why not build a robotic electrician’s snake that can ascend behind walls without posing a risk to workers?
On November 21, Bilsky, founder and president of FLX Solutions (Bethlehem, Pa.), won the 2019 Startup Grind Princeton competition after he pitched his robotic snake, the “FLX BOT,” to a panel of four judges at the Princeton Innovation Center Biolabs.
Bilsky, who now has a doctorate in mechanical engineering, bested nine final entrepreneurs in a competition that started with a few dozen entries. The finalists each had five minutes to pitch. And the room was crowded.
The other tech startups focused on such topics as cleaning contaminated water, improving construction site security, or delivering whisky, healthy foods, books, mulch or live music to the masses.
Asked what made Bilsky’s pitch standout, David Stengle, director of Startup Grind Princeton, said, “Part of it is he really had passion based on his personal and professional experience with the problem. Matt identified the problem and creatively solved it in a way that saves time, money and people’s lives.”
Bilsky noted that the robotic snake measures 1 inch in diameter and is equipped with a camera and drill, eliminating the need to open walls. It has 6-inch-long links that extend, grip and rotate, ascending like a mountain climber, he explained.
“It allows electricians to safely repair and upgrade lines, keeping them out of harm’s way. Our goal is not to take away jobs. Electricians and their workers know where they want to go. We want to get them there safer,” Bilsky told the judges.
“Our business model is very simple. Build and sell robots,” he said, adding that their initial market consists of 230,000 telecom technicians across the U.S. The company will also offer training and support while looking to branch out into search-and-rescue and defense applications.
For capturing top honors, Bilsky secured a heavily subsidized booth at Startup Grind’s Global 2020 conference.
“These pitch contests allow people to get in front of a bigger audience,” said Stengle. He added that each entrepreneur “will get candid, one-on-one feedback from the judges. Was the solution good? Was the solution special? How do we rate these companies? How good was their presentation? How important was the problem? That is what we look at. How can we help them?”
Stengle added, “We’ll do another pitch event in 2Q and plan to do these at least twice a year starting in 2020.”