CAMBRIDGE, MA—Startups are nine times more likely to survive to their fifth year if they have a mentor. But only one in five reports launch of the business with a mentor in place, despite acknowledging how important they are. That dynamic is partly to blame for our country’s massive failure rate of small businesses.
Draper, a leader in defense, space and commercial markets, believes in mentorship, but with a twist. Instead of investing in a startup to gain control of the company or acquire its technology, Draper, through Sembler, its office for engaging with startups, works with startups by providing mentors, consulting services and access to Draper engineering resources.
The idea behind Sembler is to expose startups to the tough requirements that exist in industry and the federal government, said Tess Bailie, UX group leader and a Sembler program manager at Draper. “Startups are engines of innovation, with powerful ideas that the world needs, but making those ideas real is no small task. Sembler is here to help with mentorships, prototype testing and development, contract expertise and opportunities for customer collaborations.”
In addition to mentorships and technology partnerships, Sembler provides access to Draper’s facilities, and opportunities to collaborate on Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) projects.
At a recent demo day in Boston hosted by Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars, Draper participated in the event with two startups currently engaged in the Sembler program, smileML and Cleo Robotics.
smileML specializes in user research powered by emotion recognition—an application that uses artificial intelligence to detect micro-expressions and subtle reactions. With it, educators could improve learning and businesses could accelerate sales, said Shannon Anderson, COO, who co-founded the company with CEO Ethan Petersen. “We’re grateful for Draper’s involvement in the Techstars program. Tess’s mentorship has been tremendously valuable and has helped identify new market opportunities.”
A second startup, Cleo Robotics, makes the Cleo Drone, a compact and rugged UAV designed specifically for safe operation indoors and in confined spaces for reconnaissance and inspections. “Our engagement with Draper has been very helpful, and we look forward to continuing this engagement,” said Omar Eleryan, founder and CEO of Cleo Robotics.
An interdisciplinary team at Draper is leading the technology development with smileML and Cleo Robotics under Sembler. Sembler works with startups in a range of sectors and has facilitated more than $3M in DoD funding to startups by providing support on grants, contracts and connections. For medical device company ARMR Systems, Sembler provided technical experience and government contracting expertise, which contributed to ARMR’s ability to access more than $400K in DoD funding.