Setting A Precedent: Fahim Almas, Founder And CEO, Almas Robotics
Emirati entrepreneur Fahim Almas, founder and CEO of Almas Robotics, on making robotics accessible to the average consumer.
Research is a way to bridge the gap between a good idea and a great startup; however, not often do we hear about entrepreneurs rolling up their sleeves and considering the various scenarios for their new business concepts before taking the leap. Yet, the desk of Fahim Almas, founder and CEO, Almas Robotics, a Dubai-based robotics manufacturing startup, was covered with piles of research notes for a very long time. “An important area that many startups overlook in the early stages is doing proper due diligence in order to fully understand the market and what your potential customers are looking for,” he says.
“This process can be a challenging one, as it requires you as an entrepreneur to change your vision and expectations. Educating consumers about your services and products takes time and patience. You cannot expect people to automatically understand the value of what you are offering.”
Prior to launching his startup, this 35-year-old Emirati mechatronic and aviation maintenance engineer spent several months gauging people’s interest about robotics and the types of products which he envisioned to create. The research led him to conclude that 2019 was going to be a breakthrough year for the robotics industry, not only because general perceptions and attitudes about robots had evolved, but also because the value of the global industrial robotics market itself was expected to more than double to US$97.41 billion by 2026.
“Almas Robotics was something that has been in the back of my mind for years, but it took some time to convince myself to finally break free from the stable corporate world, get out of my comfort zone, and take a leap of faith,” Almas says. “While I was very content in my various roles as an aviation engineer and manager, I always yearned to build something completely different and unheard of something that I could call my own and manage on my own terms.
For me, Almas Robotics is just that; it is not only my first startup, but a product of my passion, and a platform that allows me to make my mark, and share my inventions with others.” Having realized that the UAE offered a great deal of support to startups specializing in innovation-focused industries and advanced technologies, such as 3D printing, AI, computer numerical control (CNC), and blockchain, Almas launched Almas Robotics in April 2019, registering it as a Dubai Economy Department company. In the same month, he enrolled in the Hamdan Innovation Incubator, part of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development (Dubai SME), enjoying a low- cost registration fee, a low-cost shared office, and their unlimited guidance and support.
Today, Almas Robotics has a two-pronged business model. Firstly, it focuses on designing and marketing software and hardware products that utilize state-of-the-art technologies to address industry challenges. One example is his first product M First, a multi-purpose robotic arm, which is designed to lift light objects of any kind and can be used for a variety of things, such as in education and demonstration, or to support with photography, cooking, surgery, engineering, or manufacturing jobs.
Not long after launching the product, Almas reached an agreement with MyMini Factory, a UK-based social platform for 3D printable objects, to sell its M First educational robotic arm, 3D printing design, and the robot program codes internationally through the latter’s online portal. “The M First’s simple design makes it an ideal teaching tool for the classroom,” Almas explains, adding that he is in the process of patenting the technology he used to create M First. “It is extremely easy to use and contains no screws, enabling a safe and hands-on learning experience for children who interact with the robot. At the end of the day, my goal is to show people that anyone can learn about robotics. and create new tools that serve humanity and improve people’s lives for the better.”
The second part of Almas Robotics’ business model is a direct result of the extensive research he had conducted before starting up the business. Almas surveyed a large sample of UAE nationals to analyze whether people had let go of their fears of robots and accepted them as some of the main drivers of innovation, only to realize that 72% of respondents were keen for their children to learn about robotics and programming, while 91% stressed the importance of building such future-ready skills.
Realizing this market need, he began organizing four-hour evening workshops designed specifically to familiarize young children with the basics of robotics in a fun and engaging way. “The only way to fully understand robotics is to familiarize yourself with the various parts and their functions,” Almas explains. “Once you have the basics, you can then start learning about the programming process, which is more complicated and time consuming. The most rewarding part of it all is getting the chance to see the results of your efforts, and test out the robotic functions."
"As with any new solutions or technology, there is a lot of trial and error and tweaks along the way, but the end result is always something that you will be proud of.” However, there is a business related importance of learning robotics as well. “Due to growing interest and demand, the robotics industry is slowly shifting, and companies are looking to simplify robotics and make it accessible to the average consumer,” Almas says.
“Before that transition can happen, people must be educated and trained on the basics. This is a key area of focus for me, and I hope that through the workshop series, I can show how robotics can simplify business and add value to our everyday lives.” To reach this stage of his business, Almas has decided not to seek investor support, but to grow the business organically with AED150,000 of personal investment.
“I felt that it was important to first understand what Almas Robotics could become, before I could even consider selling stakes, or handing over control to an outsider.” Taking part in the Hamdan Innovation Incubator has been beneficial in forging valuable partnerships with other startups and industry stakeholders, he says, and reverts to the topic of seeking external investors too early with a word of caution for other founders.
“It can be challenging to find a balance between securing much needed funding, and ensuring that you retain most of the control of the business decisions,” Almas says. “A lot of startups are thrilled that investors are taking notice of their business, and quickly agree to venture capital funding, only to realize later that they cannot keep up with the expectations, or often they end up losing the essence of what made them unique, exciting, and marketable in the first place.”
Another important decision was to outsource a big part of Almas Robotics’ operations, with the enterprise relying on five freelancers. “I opted to work with third-party companies that were highly experienced in the field of robotics. This type of specialty is not easy to find here in the UAE, so this decision served the business well, as it reduced our risks, and gave us an opportunity to learn about other markets, and grow the business without investing in a large team in Dubai.”
Once the business develops, Almas says building a reliable team will become his first priority. “With any startup, making the transition from a young business to an established one comes with common challenges, such as redefining the roles within your team,” he says.
“In the early stages, every member of your team is wearing many different hats, but once you begin to have a steady flow of business and customers, it is important that you invest capital in the areas that are most crucial to the business’ success and growth. Sometimes, this means entrusting someone more experienced than yourself to handle a specific part of the business.”
In conclusion, we touch upon who he looks up to, and Almas enthusiastically explains that his vision for Almas Robotics is bold, hoping for it to become a test bed for the UAE’s most cutting-edge technologies, and a platform that continues to launch new and innovative inventions that can change the world, “much like Elon Musk has done with Tesla, SpaceX and Hyperloop, or what the UAE is doing with its mission to Mars.” He adds, “In a few years’ time, I would like to get the business to a point where its name becomes synonymous with innovation technology. At that stage, I would aim to have a wide range of patents and products intended for various types of industries and uses.”
In terms of advice for his peers, Almas says aspiring entrepreneurs need to be honest with themselves about why they want to launch a business. “The ‘why’ part of that question is extremely important, as it sets a precedent for everything else that comes afterwards,” he says. “There is a fine line between having the confidence you need to succeed, and being too set in your own ways. As an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone, and listen to your team and customers in order to understand what your business needs, and adjust your approach and business model as needed.”
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Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.