ecoRobotix: “We couldn’t have kept our venture going without the canton’s backing.”

Local startup and scale-up ecoRobotix, which is based at the Y-Parc in Yverdon-les-Bains and creates low-cost, environmentally friendly weeding robots, had its plans turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. CEO Aurélien G. Demaurex tells us how the financial backing provided by the Vaud cantonal government helped him keep his tech company afloat and its projects on track even at the height of the crisis.

Tell me about the day the lockdown was announced. What did you think and do first? 

We were actually expecting there to be a lockdown, so fortunately we had put some plans in place, and some members of our team were already used to working from home. The hardest thing was to cancel or postpone our robot tests, which were planned primarily in France and Spain. It’s a good thing we did, though, as our colleagues would have ended up stuck abroad otherwise. We informed our staff, investors and main partners about the situation and the new project timelines. And we stayed in very regular contact with them throughout the partial lockdown. 

How has the pandemic affected your company? 

Apart from having to postpone the test phase for our new robot, which had been due to take place in a number of European countries, the biggest challenge was recruiting our CFO online. We finally got to meet our new colleague in the flesh just three weeks ago!

In terms of production, we had to come on site to build our new robot, since that wasn’t something we could do remotely. That meant we had to make sure all the necessary health measures were in place. 

We had begun raising funds in February, and things got complicated there too. When the pandemic started and then spread, investors around the world were wracked with uncertainty. That delayed our third funding round by nearly three months. So I was really happy to get the financial backing that the cantonal government was providing to startups.

So how did the federal and cantonal measures to support startups help you?

Thanks to the cantonal government and its agreement with the federal government, we managed to get one million Swiss francs in support. That covered our running costs for three months, which is about the amount of time that our funding round had been put off by COVID-19. The timing was just perfect.

What did you think about how the authorities responded to the crisis?

The cantonal government, our politicians and all those involved in economic development played a pivotal role in making sure that startups could survive. Startups are quite different from your standard SME. They’re like very small SMEs because they usually have very low – or no – turnover. The Vaud Service for the Promotion of the Economy and Innovation (SPEI) worked hard to explain the difference between how startups and SMEs work and our running costs, especially to our partners within the federal government. The federal government then changed how it defines the expenses incurred by startups, based on how things are done in Vaud Canton. That was really great for Vaud startups, because we got more targeted support that was better adapted to our needs than what had been initially planned. I think that a lot of startups were able to keep their heads above water because of that.

What did you think about the application process and how it was communicated?

Excellent! Once the cantonal government announced that it would be providing support for startups, the platform was up and running in record time. We received all the information we needed about how ecoRobotix could apply, and we really appreciated the assistance we got from the task force, made up of staff from the SPEI, Innovaud and the Foundation for Technological Innovation (FIT). 

What projects do you have in the pipeline now that the lockdown is over?

2020 is a crucial year for ecoRobotix. We’ve got real-world tests on our robots and a funding round going on at the moment. We’re optimistic about the future, even though confidence on the markets and in the global economy is not yet back to where it was. As I’ve said, we couldn’t have kept our venture going (almost) as planned without the canton’s backing.