Alexis Moschopoulos came up with the idea for Grobotic Systems as an academic in the field of plant science. He felt the that the expensive and inefficient equipment he had to use to grow plants for experiments was holding back progress in his field. After several years of discussion and experimentation with his friend Richard Banks, an electronics engineer and maker, the pair founded Grobotic Systems in 2018.
Their first product, called Grobot, is a compact plant growth chamber small enough to sit on someone’s desk. While standard scientific plant growing equipment requires shared infrastructure housed in a dedicated building, the Grobot can be placed anywhere and is entirely controlled by the researcher using it. This gives researchers greater control, and flexibility to run experiments with lots of variables at the same time. Internet-connected Grobots let users gather important visual and environmental experimental data, and even provide a timelapse video of plants growing during their experiment.
Alexis and Richard began establishing their business through the Y Accelerator, a programme supported by Sheffield City Region. Through the 2018 programme, they developed their business model and successfully applied for funding from Innovate UK which allowed them to move to a new building, hire colleagues and develop prototype Grobots into commercially viable products. By the time this funding ended in December 2021, they were ready to start scaling their business and seeking further investment.
Throughout this journey, Alexis and Richard have worked with several Business Advisors at Business Sheffield – a team of experienced business people who provide expert support with all aspects of business. “We originally got in touch with Andy Sorsby,” says Alexis, “who supported us to apply for a COVID-19 support grant. He stayed in touch and later connected us to Jane Gregory. She helped us with our marketing: with clearly communicating our value proposition, and why a customer would want to use our kit. She also worked with us on our website, making it clearer and easier for customers to find information.”
The team also worked with Jane and another Advisor, Morgan Killick, when they began applying for further funding. “We spent over an hour practising and improving our pitch with them,” says Alexis. “Morgan went through all the documents we provide to investors, made suggestions on how to present our data, and asked the questions he thought investors would ask. He’s also put us in touch with people in the investment community and signposted us to opportunities to apply for.
“The Business Sheffield team have been great to work with. It’s wonderful to have people who want to help and can help; their input has been really valuable. It’s strengthened our position when we approach investors.”
Alexis has big plans for 2022, and his outlook is confident. “If we don’t get investment now, we can still keep growing organically,” he says. “The investment is to enable us to scale the business faster. It will fund a value engineering project to enable us to manufacture our chambers faster, more cheaply and on a larger scale. It will also support a pilot project to build awareness of the brand and gather more user validation. We’re also looking to hire more people, to develop the software side of things and to take an expert approach to our sales and marketing.”