Robot Valley Saxony: How Saxony is becoming the leading robotics cluster
The leading German business newspaper “Handelsblatt” interviewed PowerON’s CEO Markus Henke for an article about Germany’s federal state of Saxony becoming the “Robot Valley Saxony”. The article covers Dresden and Saxony building a flourishing robotics ecosystem, combining universities, research institutions like Fraunhofer and Helmholtz Centers, major OEM companies like BOSCH, Global Foundries and Volkswagen, to create the perfect spot for startups to develop innovative solutions in robotics and test them directly in the the market. Simultaneously, major science and bioengineering orientated universities in Saxony deliver a stream of highly skilled graduates. “Dresden is on the way to becoming the “place to be” in robotics”, Markus says in the article. Read the entire story here.
PowerON has been intercontinental since day one, with teams in Dresden, Germany and Auckland, New Zealand. While this keeps us close to customers in Europe, the split brings several challenges. The time shift of 10-12 hours between Germany and New Zealand means extra planning is needed for the cross-team meetings that are vital for a young company exploiting ground-breaking technology. With the PowerON team growing rapidly just now, getting together is vital as we build links throughout the team.
Recently PowerON held its first “All Staff Forum”, where several new team members and interns were introduced and welcomed. “Even though it is not possible to physically meet just now, with Covid restrictions still in place, we need to do what we can for our team members to link up. PowerON’s success is based on ideas coming out of our multi-disciplinary team, which is why we can offer new solutions to support our customers”, Ross Green, COO, said after the meeting, “Our team gets a real lift from learning a little more about their colleagues, the available skill base and the full range of projects throughout our company. We will have such events at quarterly from now on.”
“After raising significant capital earlier this year, we have extended our team with numerous brilliant minds. It is important that our new people get to know the entire team, no matter where they are located” says Markus Henke, PowerON CEO. “Both of our branches have added engineering staff to support execution of our near- and longer-term technical plans. We are in process hiring a Chief Commercial Officer in Germany to shape and drive our medium-term business development”, added Dr. Henke.
Katie Wilson, CTO, noted: “We have an ambitious technical programme for delivery in 2022 to improve our product and service offers, supporting our current and prospective customers as they look to deploy our active elastomer components. The scale of opportunity for our customers is large, and PowerON is conscious of the need to support customers through the transition away from legacy electronic and electromechanical systems.” Dr. Wilson added: “Our strategic new hires have the right background and know how to develop smart elastic material applications meeting identified customer needs.”
Dr. Henke commented that PowerON expects to complete the current hiring round mid-2022. “We’re pleased with the response we received from candidates, especially given the competitive recruitment situation for good people in Europe and New Zealand now. We are running ahead of our recruitment goals, meaning that we will have the team ready with increased capacity for customer support next year.” He added that: “So far we have people of seven different nationalities. We are truly an international company and it is good to see the collaborative working across the team. This recruitment round has also seen us make good progress towards meeting our diversity goals. Diversity & inclusiveness are the top goals for companies, like PowerON, that build on new ideas.”
08 September 2021 – PowerON Limited is proud to announce the successful close of its $3.1M capital raise, supported by new and existing investors.
PowerON is turning the vision of soft robotics into reality, through the development and commercialisation of revolutionary soft electronics technology. Based on research originating from the Biomimetics Lab at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute, the PowerON team are deploying their dielectric elastomer technology towards sensing, signal processing, energy harvesting and actuation use cases in a variety of industrial applications. The company has two offices in Auckland, New Zealand and Dresden, Germany, the European centre of robotics development.
The $3 million raise was oversubscribed through strong support from the New Zealand investment community. Booster Investment Management, New Zealand Growth Capital Partners Aspire NZ Seed Fund, Quidnet Ventures, K1W1, Greenlight Ventures NZ, Pacific Channel, and Angel Investors Marlborough join the existing investors IP Group, Matū Fund, and the University of Auckland Inventors’ Fund. The investors look forward to working together to help guide the company through the next stage of its journey.
The capital raised will enable the company to build the market for TouchDetect (a soft fingertip giving robots sense of touch), and complete multifunctional prototypes for lead customers. As PowerON grows, its product offering will expand from components towards lifelike soft robotic devices and collaborative robots, using PowerON artificial muscles instead of motors and gears.
PowerON CEO, Markus Henke, said “PowerON’s technology will revolutionise the way society uses robots – shifting from hard machinery in cages to friendly, lifelike companions that work alongside us day-to-day. These changes will have an impact like the invention of semiconductors in the 1950s that led to the IT revolution.
To make this vision a reality, we are expanding to fulfill strong customer interest we’ve seen since launching in 2019. We are building on internationally-patented research conducted in New Zealand over the past 10 years.
The support shown by the venture finance community in this oversubscribed capital raise is a strong vote of confidence in our team and vision. I also acknowledge government R&D support in New Zealand and Germany, especially over the past two difficult years as we navigate Covid. We now have a clear runway to move our technology out into the market – and to change the world with the next generation of robotics.”
Matū Managing Partner, Greg Sitters, adds: “We are excited to support the PowerON team and their disruptive technology that will help realise the vision of soft robotics. It is great that PowerON had so much support in the New Zealand investment market, and we are seeing a real shift away from deep tech companies needing to raise seed and Series A rounds from overseas investors.”
Matū is a venture capital fund investing in early-stage science and technology commercialisation from education and research institutions and the private sector. As an open and evergreen fund, Matū takes a long-term investment view and is aimed at turning ground-breaking ideas into globally focused, IP-rich companies. Matū provides intelligent capital with active governance, executive management, operational support, and mentorship for founding and executive teams: www.matu.co.nz
About IP Group plc
IP Group is a leading intellectual property commercialisation company focused on evolving great ideas from its partner universities into world-changing businesses. The Group pioneered a unique approach to developing these ideas and the resulting businesses by providing access to business building expertise, capital, scientific insight and the supporting infrastructure. In Australia and New Zealand, IP Group works in close partnership with the Go8 Universities and The University of Auckland to identify ground-breaking technologies, rooted in hard science, which have the most promising commercial potential. IP Group, which is listed on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange under the symbol IPO, has a strong track record of success and its portfolio comprises holdings in early-stage to mature businesses across life sciences and technology: www.ipgroupplc.com
About The University of Auckland Inventors’ Fund
The University of Auckland Inventors’ Fund is an evergreen, open-ended $20 million investment fund owned and managed by UniServices, the commercialisation and research impact company wholly owned by the University of Auckland. The fund provides pre-seed and seed capital for University of Auckland spin-outs: www.uniservices.co.nz
Booster is one of the six government-appointed default KiwiSaver scheme providers with almost $4.5 billion currently under management on behalf of over 130,000 investors across KiwiSaver, Superannuation and Investment Schemes. Booster helps Kiwis share in the success of innovative research and IP development by investing in early-stage technologies across the innovation ecosystem and through their direct investment funds, one of which is focused on supporting NZ businesses founded on technologies emerging from New Zealand universities: www.booster.co.nz
About New Zealand Growth Capital Partners
NZGCP was established by the Government in 2002 to build a vibrant early-stage investment market in New Zealand. It currently has two investment vehicles – the Aspire NZ Seed Fund (Aspire) which is focused on seed and angel investment and Elevate NZ Venture Fund (Elevate) – a $300m fund of funds programme which looks to fill the capital gap for high-growth New Zealand businesses at the Series A and B fund raising stage. The PowerOn investment was made by the Aspire Fund and led by Maria-Jose Alvarez: www.nzgcp.co.nz
About Quidnet Ventures
Quidnet Ventures is an early stage fund investing in New Zealand-based founders building impactful companies. Quidnet Ventures focuses on taking New Zealand innovation to the world and takes an active role in helping its portfolio companies succeed by leveraging its team’s global, multi-sector network as its portfolio companies position themselves to enter international markets. Quidnet Ventures provides unrivaled access to a global network across academia, government affairs, venture capital and industry: www.quidnetventures.com
About Greenlight Ventures
Greenlight Ventures NZ invests in and backs a wide range of early stage ventures with global reach including deep-tech, clean-tech, med-tech, fintech and ventures which democratise access. It is an early stage investment vehicle of New Zealander, Jennifer Sutton: www.greenlightventures.co.nz
About Pacific Channel
Pacific Channel supports ground-breaking NZ-based deep-tech companies that create meaningful global impact and value. We invest in these companies across multiple stages of their growth and support them with our expertise and networks. Pacific Channel has recently closed a $55m venture fund, aiming to invest in 25 New Zealand-based deep-tech companies: pacificchannel.com
About Angel Investors Marlborough
Angel Investors Marlborough is a membership-based investment network of wholesale investors and allied business professionals. Our objective is to connect experienced early-stage investors with entrepreneurs and innovators.Since establishing in 2017 Angel Investors Marlborough has quickly grown to be one of the largest and most active regional Angel clubs in New Zealand.
Angel Investors Marlborough is a member of the Angel Association of New Zealand (AANZ), a network of more than twenty angel groups and funds throughout the country. We collectively promote and facilitate investor education by providing education events, active learning opportunities on actual deals and best practice procedures.
We’re pleased to share with you a great video put together by Auckland Unlimited, the business support people in our original home of Auckland, New Zealand.
The video introduces the work our team here at PowerON does every day to shape soft, biomimetic solutions for the next generation of robotics. Listen to CTO Katie Wilson introducing our vision. Katie also explains the importance and availability of support here in Auckland for disruptive new businesses like us.
“For tech start-ups, a lot of us are engineers – we don’t necessarily have that business background, so you definitely want to grab as much of the support that’s available and Auckland Unlimited can point you the right way.” Katherine Elizabeth Wilson CTO, PowerON
Our CEO, E.-F. Markus Henke, will be speaking at the 15th Silicon Saxony Day – about how our Smart Elastic Technology transforms robotics as we know them. Join us and register now!
The virtual conference on May 27 will feature top-notch keynotes, eight expert sessions and various networking possibilities. Topics range from IoT, DigitalTwins, AI, Robotics and ICDesign, RFID and TrustedElectronics to Materials and Technologies.
Learn more about the newest technology trends, exchange with peers during the whole day via the conference tool and find new business partners in Saxony and beyond! www.silicon-saxony-day.de
Silicon Saxony is an industry association of nearly 300 companies in the microelectronics and related sectors in Saxony, Germany, with around 40,000 employees.
Hannover Messe Digital Edition, the world’s leading trade fair for industry, is entirely online this year. PowerON is part of the futureSAX Start-up Corner, along with other innovative companies from the German Federal State of Saxony.
“We will showcase our recent progress, focussing on products available for sampling now and coming up later this year”, Katie Wilson, PowerON CTO said, “Hannover Messe is the best event to engage with customers for engineered devices, so we were pleased to get this early opportunity. We expect to learn a lot about new applications and use cases for PowerON products”, she concludes.
“With the Messe going online this year, I believe that has upside for customers and PowerON. Nobody likes queuing at crowded stands; this year’s Digital Edition lets you see booths you like, whenever you want. We have products being readied for launch, and a lot of enquiries, so the Hannover Digital Edition also makes efficient use of PowerON team’s time” Markus Henke, PowerON CEO says.
The online fair will take place from 12 to 16 April 2021, daily from 6:00am to 8:00pm CET. Access as well as an overview of the supporting programme is available to interested parties and trade fair visitors on the Hannover Messe website.
This year’s EAP-in-Action session at SPIE Smart Materials and Structures Conference is an online-only event. “This is a good opportunity to showcase our High-Voltage Signal Generator – named HVSG – and let’s hope we’re back with in-person meetings next year”, said Katie Wilson, PowerON’s CTO. “We start HVSG deliveries soon once tests are complete” Markus Henke, PowerON’s CEO adds.
“We used to spend money and time building high voltage amplifiers on in-house PCBs – when what we actually wanted was an accurate and dependable HV signal for the dielectric elastomer development programme we started back in 2008. So we built HVSG and now – after some years development – offer a solution for you, ready to use out of the box” Markus says.
HVSG is more than a simple power supply: it is a controller for running samples under test, demonstrators and experimental set ups that require high voltage, with 4 independent channels. Each output channel runs up to 4kV with DC, or rectangle, triangle, and sine waveforms up to 10Hz and down to fractional Hz.
With the interactive touchscreen display and HVSG flexible operation, your experiment, demonstrator or product that requires high voltage will be quickly up and running. If you are working with dielectric elastomers, piezo electronics, electrostriction robotics and more HVSG is for you.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to secure your place in the HVSG production schedule.
PowerON CEO, Dr. Markus Henke, will on November 26th be on the panel at a webinar about the AI and robotic industry in Saxony. Together with Maria Piechnick – Chief Product Officer of Wandelbots GmbH and Christoph Biering – Head of AI at Wandelbots GmbH, he will offer insights into recent developments in robotics in Saxony and Germany. Robotics has gained so much momentum there that Saxony is commonly known in the media as “Robotic Valley”.
“Saxony’s ecosystem for robotics technologies meant Dresden was the right home for our German operations” said Dr. Henke. “I’m please to take part in the panel and share some of PowerON’s experience and progress since starting our GmbH two months ago.”
Dr. Henke also added: “At PowerON we are recruiting now as we start to build out our German and European team. Along with the colleagues from Wandelbots, I’ll be sharing insights on the technology and the skills needed to thrive in it as a working professional in our sector – a European industry sunrise success story.”
Meet Dr. Henke at the webinar by registering your attendance here.
To better serve customers in Germany and the wider European Union, PowerON has established a subsidiary GmbH which will be operating from September. Commenting on the expansion, Dr. Markus Henke, PowerON CEO, noted: “An upside of the Covid-19 crisis – if there is one – is a significant uptick of interest from companies wanting to automate production processes: robots are immune to Covid and keep people away from harm.”
Dr. Henke observed that implementing major changes, like new ways of automation, required investment over long time horizons. “Germany and the European Union lead the world in robotics and automation. At PowerON we saw a significant increase in enquiries during the COVID-19 shutdown, so we decided to bring our plans for Germany forward.” He said there were clear signs that companies were planning ahead to prepare for the next pandemic, aiming to automate a wider range of tasks that today put people at risk.” Dr. Henke: “Although it’s still early days for PowerON, we are encouraged that customers recognize the transformational possibilities that PowerON’s technology bring to robotics.”
As PowerON GmbH gears up, people are being added in customer support and business development roles. “Now we can support customers across the EU from the same time zone” said Dr. Henke, “and, over time, PowerON GmbH will begin product manufacture close to end customers”.
PowerON GmbH is based in Dresden. Dr. Henke said that the choice of location was easy: “We have a strong collaboration already with the TU Dresden.” Amongst the largest technology-oriented universities in Germany, TU Dresden was named a “University of Excellence” by the German Research Society, recognizing the strong track record of innovation. The past few years have seen large research institutes, including Fraunhofer, Helmholtz and Leibniz establishing around TU Dresden, augmenting a vibrant start-up environment. “To grow a game changing start up in robotics now, Dresden is the obvious place to be. By setting up there PowerON can access world-class facilities as well as strengthening customer support”, Dr. Henke concluded.
Even today, robots struggle with tasks that people find easy: harvesting sensitive fruit, moving over difficult terrain and care tasks for patients and convalescents are beyond current capabilities. This is set to change: scientists at TU Dresden are developing a new generation of robots and robotic components. As part of the Emmy Noether Programme, 2 million Euros from the German Research Foundation (DFG) is supporting the newly-established “MEiTNER – Mulitfunctional Dielectric Electronics for Next Generation Soft Robotics” research group. Over the next six years, the MEiTNER will deliver smart and flexible materials, manufacturing processes and complex bionic components for highly capable, adaptive, robotic systems.
Conventional robots use hard components controlled by rigid electronics and are useful for manufacturing processes needing repetitive, pre-programmed movements – kept away from people for safety. There is a pressing need for more flexibility and adaptability if robot applications are to increase, freeing people from mundane tasks. “Flexible robot systems will open up completely new applications that seem unimaginable to engineers today. We draw inspiration from the natural world around us – the end result of millions of years of evolution.” says Dr. Markus Henke, MEiTNER group leader at TU Dresden and PowerON’s CEO. For example, bionic robots made of flexible materials can mimic insects – and crawl into danger areas for disaster reconnaissance. The same technology gives sense of touch to robot “gripper systems”- robot hands.
Dr. Henke noted that robots with adaptive, intelligent, gripper systems can finally take over heavy work from people, while safely working together with human colleagues. “We see applications medium-term in harvesting robots for sensitive agricultural products such as asparagus, avocados or kiwis and for e-commerce fulfilment centres.” said Dr. Henke. Many applications in medical technology will open up as the technology matures: intelligent, lifelike, prosthetic components, medication pumps built as soft skins and much more. “I know this sounds like science fiction”, Dr. Henke observed, “but these are already demonstrated in our laboratory. MEiTNER is a significant step towards commercial readiness.”
MEiTNER is further developing flexible electronic systems made of multifunctional dielectric elastomers, often referred to as “artificial muscles”. Dielectric elastomers are sophisticated polymers incorporating electrically conductive particles. Dr. Henke: “We work at micro-scale now and we see great possibilities for nano-scale implementations as MEiTNER improves our processes.” Dresden researchers are cooperating with the Biomimetics Laboratory, led by Professor Iain Anderson, at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Under an exclusive arrangement, MEiTNER outputs will be commercialized by PowerON, a new company with operations in Auckland and Dresden. Katie Wilson, PowerON CTO said: “We are grateful for the DFG’s support, which will accelerate PowerON’s commercialization mission. I look forward to working closely with the Dresden colleagues throughout MEiTNER.”