Innovators: Sarjoun Skaff, Co-Founder of Bossa Nova Robotics

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Innovators. They come in many forms. They dream big but they aren’t just dreamers. They form raw ideas into cool products with disruptive business models. They shatter entire industries and leave established leviathans running scared with their tails between their legs. The Innovators interview series connects you with the most driven people on the planet. What makes them tick? What advice do they have for tech founders? What tools do they use to get the job done? Read on to find out.

Sarjoun Skaff is a robotics entrepreneur with a life calling of putting robots in people’s lives. He co-founded Bossa Nova Robotics in 2005 to take robots out of the lab and turn them into personal robots for consumers.

He led the development of Bossa Nova’s first three products, including technology development, manufacturing, quality assurance, sales and customer service. He is responsible for Bossa Nova’s technology leadership and product development. He has over 15 years of hands-on experience in robotics, including two years spent at the factory in China building products on small budget, high quality, and at scale.

He has a BE in Mechanical Engineering from the American University of Beirut, and an MS and PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. He is fluent in three languages, holds four patents, and has received numerous awards including the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Western Pennsylvania (2011), the FEA Distinguished Young Alumni (2011) and the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s Top 50 in Tech (2009)

What do you enjoy most about your work and why?

I love constructing products and product features. It’s a creative exercise, often performed in a brainstorming setting, where we dream of uses for technology and how it can meet our needs. It’s a process that gives technology a purpose.

Where does your passion come from? What drives you, inspires you, excites you?

I have been dreaming of robots since childhood, and that’s why I came to Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. I feel a life calling for putting robots into people’s lives, and that’s what drives me every day at Bossa Nova Robotics. I get really excited every time we put a robot on the market, as it means sharing it with thousands around the world.

Someone reading this wants to start a tech company. What’s your best advice for them?

Dream big and don’t be afraid. The journey itself is an incredible thrill and a unique learning experience. You create something great from nothing, routinely overcome problems that you thought were insurmountable, and enjoy every minute of it. Definitely worth all the pain, uncertainty and long nights.

What are a few tech startups that you’re really excited about right now and why?

I admire Boston Dynamics because they make robots do things we didn’t think possible; iRobot because they were the first to put robots into millions of homes; Google for their driverless cars; and Kiva, Aethon and Vecna for putting robots to work every day.

What tech tools (websites, apps, gadgets, etc.) do you rely on both for work and in your down time?

I’m a daily reader of tech blogs, including TechCrunch, Engadget, IEEE Spectrum, and we use Google Apps, Yammer and Box for work. We also make extensive use of smart phone cameras to document development and for debugging robots.

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