Mail.ru’s Dmitry Grishin Launches Fund in New York for Robotics

6/15/12Follow @jpruth

When the head of one of Russia’s largest Internet companies starts investing in technology, the impact can be felt across continents. Today Dmitry Grishin, CEO and chairman of Mail.ru, announced the launch of Grishin Robotics, a New York-based investment fund focused on backing next generation technology in robotics. With Mail.ru—a popular Russian portal for e-mail, blogs, social networking, and file hosting—Grishin is immersed in the evolving Web. Now he wants to see similarly brisk innovation drive the robotics sector. “I want to bring Internet company culture to robots,” he says.

Grishin Robotics will invest $25 million toward the development of robotics with a focus on bringing the technology into private households. Grishin says the rise of companies such as iRobot may be just the beginning for this sector. He chose New York as the home for the new fund because of the access to capital—which he hopes to see channeled into the sector. The city can also be a springboard for reaching other innovation hubs across country such as Boston and San Francisco, he says. Furthermore, Grishin says, he was drawn to New York’s growing tech community. “Combining all these elements, this is the perfect place to be,” he says.

These days, it’s quite common to find robots in industrial or medical settings. The new investment fund will look for early- and mid-stage companies developing new technology to make robots part of consumers’ lives. Technology born at universities may also attract Grishin’s eye. “If you look at startups in robotics right now, they are usually spinoffs from universities,” says he. Individual investments by Grishin Robotics are expected to range from $500,000 to $3.5 million. The New York-based fund will also look for investment opportunities abroad in such countries as Japan and Korea.

Grishin says he sees a chance now to be part of a sector that has the potential for rapid growth. “If you look at the robotics industry, it is similar to PC industry in the early 1980s,” he says. “Back then, you had big mainframe companies that controlled much of the computer resources. Then early stage startups tried to bring computers to the mass market.” He sees parallels today, as large companies invest in industrial robotics for auto manufacturing. There is room, according to Grishin, for startups to develop robotics for consumers.

Though iRobot Corp. in Bedford, Mass. is a prominent name in robotics, Grishin says there currently is no definitive leader dominating the household-robotics sector. The Roomba self-guided vacuum cleaner is the arguably the most widely known product from iRobot. The company also makes PackBots, which are used by law enforcement and the military in environments too dangerous for humans.

There may be opportunities, according to Grishin, for robots to be used for entertainment, education, and transportation. He also believes the robotics sector can leverage advances in smartphone technology and the Web to bring down costs for development. “Historically it was very expensive to build robots,” he says. “Because of recent innovations, it gives you the ability to build robots much more cheaply.” Grishin earned his master’s in robotics and complex automation at Bauman Moscow State Technical University.

Although he is enthusiastic about the sector, Grishin says entrepreneurs in robotics must be careful about the way they go about raising and burning through their capital. “It is very important for robotics that you have long money, not short money,” he says. “It’s a capital intensive business. You need someone who will believe in your startup.” He also says it’s important for entrepreneurs in robotics to create technology that responds to real-world needs. “Sometimes people develop technology but they don’t know how to bring it to the mass market,” he says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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