With names like Grizzly, Otto and Turtlebot, you might think Clearpath Robotics manufactures children’s toys, but don’t be fooled by their cuddly names: the company is a world-class manufacturer of unmanned ground vehicles.
Founded seven years ago, Clearpath started out producing robots for research institutions like MIT, Carnegie Mellon University and NASA to tackle lofty projects like landmine detection, monitoring waterways for algal blooms and geological data-gathering to predict landslides.
In April 2016, the company began producing self-driving vehicles for material handling for clients like GE and John Deere. So far, industrial sales have come largely from the North American market, according to Meghan Hennessey, Marketing Communications Manager at Clearpath, but she said the company has sales worldwide for its research robots and aims to expand its industrial reach as well.
“Opening our sales channels to the international market has had a significant impact on our business and our growth.” Hennessey noted that roughly 80 percent of their business comes through direct sales channels, like their website, which is the “front door of our business for everyone around the world.”
“We’ve been able to use the Internet and use our e-commerce platform to set up a sales page. Now anybody can go to our site and, within ten minutes, they can buy a robot and within two weeks they can have it at their doorstep, up-and-running and ready to go,” she said.
One of the company’s biggest international challenges has been hiring. As the company grew from four to 130 employees over seven years, it became increasingly urgent to source the best and brightest engineers and researchers from around the world, but bringing them into Canada can be difficult.
Despite some of its current challenges, Hennessey said that the company—which manufactures and assembles in Kitchener—couldn’t have gotten where it is without the support of the Canadian government and local incubators. The government offered R&D grants and incorporated their story into official trade promotion efforts.
Local incubators provided free mentoring and office space, which was pivotal when starting out: “Our co-founders were just out of university when they decided to start a hardware business, and they didn’t have the funds to rent a full office space. The incubators provided a means to setup shop without having to pay overhead costs—every penny counted!”