Q+A: BotFactory

3D printing is rapidly changing the way we design and make things. Now, a team of DUMBO-based entrepreneurs want to make the process from idea to product even easier with their new invention: Squink. Squink is personal printer that designs circuit boards straight from your computer using some conductive glue and a slim white board. Squink aims to fix a problem plaguing many startups that lose critical time while waiting for prototypes to come in the mail from the manufacturer. If any mistakes are made, even more time is lost. With Squink, anyone can create a circuit board in just thirty minutes within the comforts of their own home.

Nicolas Vansnick and Carlos Ospina met at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering where they came up with the idea for Squink. They teamed up with a few other brilliant minds from NYU to form BotFactory and are now based in the NYU Poly’s DUMBO coworking space. This summer, BotFactory launched a Kickstarter campaign for Squink production and captured the attention of numerous publications including TechCrunch and Gizmodo. DUMBO BID intern Caroline Reichert visited Nicolas and Carlos to learn more about Squink and their exciting journey as first-time entrepreneurs.

Tell me the inspiration behind Squink.

N: Carlos and I were in a class and we were supposed to create an EEG system. First, it took us a couple months to design the system. Then we had to order the parts and the boards, put them together, and solder them ourselves. Carlos and I tried to keep things as easy as possible. We tried something simple at first. If it worked, then we would add it to another version. Most of the other teams said, “We’re going to add this and this and all of these cool features.” But when they received the parts, they realized they made small mistakes and had to reorder everything. Given that it takes ten to fourteen days to get the parts back, it was too late for them to complete the project and the semester was over. We believed that something had to be done.

We spoke to a professor at NYU Poly, Michael Knox, and we brainstormed for hours until we came up with the idea to create a 3D printer for prototypes using conductive glue. We entered into a competition at NYU Poly with this idea and they gave us some money to create a prototype. We made a really ugly prototype but we received really positive feedback from everyone. We then realized that we had a good idea and we can make something great out of it. When you want to start a business, there is a huge barrier to overcome because people believe its going to cost a ton of money and take forever to get the prototype. We are trying to do for hardware what’s been done for software, meaning if you make mistakes, you can try again really quickly.

Who do you envision your customers will be?

C: When you are starting a company, you will have so many ideas of who your customer is. We imagined our customers will be like us: people who work with electronics who are trying to build their own project. We went to Maker Faire in San Francisco and we expected to talk to individuals and hobbyists. But then businesses came up to us and said, “Make this work. I want it now.” We’ve had great feedback from both markets.

N: We believe there will also be a big market for our printer in the educational space. There is a real push for kids to learn technology. This printer would allow kids to get even more hands on at home, because a circuit board would cost you $5 instead of $200. Software in general allows kids imagine and program but this would allow them to bring that virtual world into reality by creating circuits and seeing things move. I think there’s a real value for teachers and kids here.

What do you enjoy about working in DUMBO?

N: Dumbo is great! I’m in love with this neighborhood. Before this, I used to work in my house. I didn’t leave my house for six months and I was going crazy. But then NYU said we could come over here and use this space. I think its amazing to see all these entrepreneurs who are working on their own stuff. You can feel the passion. Everyone is networking and exchanging tips.

C: You can feel this vibe that this is where people make things happen in New York City. Even if you’re not working directly with other people in this neighborhood, we know we’re all in the same boat here.

N: As soon as we knew we were going to start a Kickstarter campaign, people said, “You should go talk to these guys on the fourth floor who started one months ago.” You can talk to others here and learn from their experiences.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

C: One of the biggest fears when you start a new company is failure. But for me, my fear is not worrying about if I will fail. My fear is being close to my goal but not getting there. The difference is when you fear starting, you will never get anywhere. When you fear not getting there, you push yourself to break down barriers and find a new way. Many coaches in soccer say something similar. Even when you lose, you learn no matter what. Chances are, when you finish a game, you are better than when you started.

N: That was our mindset when we started our company. We weren’t worrying about whether we would succeed or not. We just said, “Let’s do this.” We’re going to learn something for sure.