An Interview with Jacob Donnini, founder of Nobo Robotics and an Engineering Freshman.
With two entrepreneurial parents, Engineering Freshman Jake Donnini has always been interested in entrepreneurship, stating that “it’s kind of in the family.” In fact, when applying to schools, he looked for schools with makerspaces, which was how he found out about the Penn Innovation Center
and the Venture Lab.
After three months at the Venture lab, he has used its many opportunities to grow his venture: Nobo Robotics.
What is Nobo Robotics?
Nobo Robotics is a company that specializes in building robots for agriculture. With a team of eight engineers, Donnini has led them in designing an autonomous robot prototype that uses modular scaling techniques to scare birds away from crops.
“We're going to have a modular system that is AI driven and can detect when its modules are losing effectiveness,” said Donnini. “Then you can change out a scaring module to always have a leg up on the birds and to give a structure plan for farmers to follow.”
Why was Nobo Robotics created?
With parents that own a winery, Donnini stated he was familiar with the problem of birds and crops. Also through conversations with other agricultural owners, he has learned more about the severity of the problem.
“They're saying they recently had like 25 to 30% of their crops lost to bird damage, and then the things on the market right now, their main problem is that they work initially, but they kind of lose effectiveness over time,” said Donnini.
In combination with growing up on a vineyard, his love for robotics since high school made working on this problem through his venture natural for him.
The venture is currently in the seed and prototyping stage.
“We're kind of just gauging initial interest and mainly using the Venture Lab to get initial funding, like non-dilutive funding that can really help us to prove our assumptions and prove our ideas,” said Donnini.
After securing funding, he stated that he hopes to lead his team in creating a real prototype, which will allow them to then reach out to bigger investors.
How has Donnini depended on the Venture Lab to grow Nobo Robotics?
One of the big ways the Venture Lab has helped Donnini with his venture is through funding. His venture has received two funds: The Validation Fund and the Berkman Fund.
“That has definitely been a huge help because that's given us funding to actually start building something,” said Donnini.
In addition, Donnini said that he has enjoyed taking advantage of coaching sessions. He has found them particularly valuable as an engineering student with a team of other engineers with little business experience. He stated that he has been able to learn about B2B, team management, and salesmanship.
What is the greatest lesson Donnini has learned so far from his time at the Venture Lab?
His biggest lesson so far has been to go for it.
“Nothing happens until you do it and if you fail, you fail,” said Donnini. “They're [the Venture Lab] always there to help you back up, so that kind of taught me to not be afraid of just going for it.”
What goals does Donnini have for his time in VIP-C?
Going forward, Donnini hopes to continue to use the Venture Lab to establish a tight team. He currently has 8 part-time employees and is interviewing more students. In addition, he hopes to get more funding for his venture.