Idukki schoolboy who made a robot once now heads robotics startup

Akhil Haridas, Athil Krishna and Sarath S. Photo: Special Arrangement

Athil Krishna took his baby steps in robotics when he was a teenager pursuing class XII in Vocational Higher Secondary School, Rajakumari, in Kerala’s hilly district of Idukki.

A schoolboy making a robot is still news and back in 2016-17 it was big. The news clips reached Sabareesh P R, a scientist working with the central government, who in turn led the boy, who had by then become a first-year student of BTech in Mechatronics, to a whole new world of technology.

Sabareesh gave Athil the opportunity to participate in the Indian International Science Festival where the engineering student won the award for the best innovation. At the Akshaya College of Engineering, Coimbatore, Athil met Sarath S Kumar and Akhil K Haridas who shared his interests and the trio is now leading iHub Robotics, a promising deep-tech startup based in Kochi.

Backed by an investor in Kochi, iHub recently got a shot in the arm as Qatar Investment Frame infused a fund of Rs 2 crore into the startup securing a two per cent equity stake.

The college friends found themselves at the helm of the Kochi startup after their attempt to launch a company when they were in college failed. The robotics and drones company they started in 2017 did not take off due to financial constraints and the Covid setback. In 2019, they sent proposals of two AI-incorporated drone projects to the prime minister’s office. After two years, they were contacted back by the Border Security Force (BSF) seeking a prototype of their proposed products.

“Unfortunately, that time we were not in a position to make the prototypes. By then there were already several players in the drone industry and we decided to focus more on robotics. Around this time, the Ernakulam-based investor contacted us expressing his interest to start a new venture in robotics. It was the beginning of iHub Robotics,” Athil, the CEO, told Onmanorama, sitting at his corporate office in Edappally. Sarath is the CTO while Akhil is the COO.

With whatever little experience they already had, Athil and his team knew that it would not be right to jump into production of robots straight away. They started off in 2022 with an ed-tech platform offering courses in AI and robotics. The platform – iHub Robotics Edutech (being rebranded as iHub Robotics School of Learning) – caters to over 100 students. The company went on to launch an e-comm platform selling robotics components and its flagship products – robots assisting with delivery and logistics – later. It also makes money by setting up AI labs in educational institutions and by hosting upskilling programmes for students.

Team iHub Robotics. Photo: Special Arrangement

The idea is to diversify revenue streams by tapping all possible demand points relating to AI and robotics. The management has also launched another company – i Aero Sky India – which is eyeing to launch its first rocket and communication satellite in a few years. The company also runs an app called ‘Infinity’ which offers free lessons to kids interested in technology.

Two years since its launch, iHub is already on the expansion mode. It is set to move to a 6,000 sqft office which would house all of its subsidiaries and is expected to function like an ecosystem in itself. “It will be a space where students can study and work together. We are aiming to create 200 jobs in two years once we move to the new space. We have also plans for expansion into neighbouring Tamil Nadu and also to the GCC countries,” Athil said.

The company has had investments to the tune of Rs 4 crore so far. It is expecting a turnover of Rs 5 crore this fiscal. 
(Startup Saturday is Onmanorama’s weekend series featuring promising startups from Kerala. Find the previous stories here)

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