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Working on Roboy is like going to an exotic island
“It takes a village to build an engineering start up,” says Lora Koycheva, who is part of an interdisciplinary research team at the TUM School of Management and UnternehmerTUM. Together with Holger Patzelt, Professor of Entrepreneurship, and Nicola Breugst, Professor of Entrepreneurial Behavior, the anthropologist is trying to find out how researchers (can) become more entrepreneurial and found high-tech university spinoffs.
Sponsored by the Joachim Herz Foundation, she is exploring this question through an ethnographic collaboration with Rafael Hostetter and his team, who are building Roboy – a humanoid robot, which should one day be capable of building a robot as good as the human body. Koycheva, who did her PhD in social and cultural anthropology at Northwestern University in Chicago, is convinced that if Roboy succeeds, it could become the next big thing: a so-called moonshot, as big as the first moon landing. “A moonshot is a very special case of entrepreneurship – but one with the prospect to change millions of lives.” Roboy is such a project that could change the lives of many people. But the team around Roboy competes against the world’s best 77 robotic companies in the ANA Avatar XPRIZE.
“Harsh realities of early stage venturing”
The conditions of a moonshot project often are anything but easy for researchers. “Moonshots are a fascinating, if particular, case of venturing and can only originate at the intersection of public (government, universities) and private (venture capital, corporate partnerships)”, says Koycheva. As she explains, the demands of conducting research are all there for such teams, but so are also the harsh realities of early stage venturing: the difficulties of finding space where to work, the too restrictive doctoral contracts, the championing of the idea the team is pursuing, the negotiating of the researcher and founder mentalities. Also an important role plays the culture of academia and the culture of entrepreneurship, the role of women in such startups, and above all – finding and making a business plan work and raising support for the venture. Because normally private capital stays away from such ventures as the returns are too delayed, but public money such as grants are too slow and often too small for the world of moonshot startups.
“The grit, the guts and a lot of energy”
Koycheva’s research focuses on all of these points. “I am not a techie”, she says. Her mission is to find out how moonshot projects in general can be supported and brought to life and what the challenges for the team are. “Vision and passion come together within the reality of entrepreneurship – and that needs the grit, the guts and a lot of energy.” While others in her field go to distant, foreign cultures to do research, Koycheva has moved to the TUM Entrepreneurship Research Institute in Munich. But she is more than satisfied with this choice. “For me, working on Roboy is like going to an exotic island.”
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