“Every day when I arrive at work, I am welcomed by the majestic sight of the river Maas, with old cranes and infrastructure in the backdrop, surrounded by the high-tech equipment of companies located at RDM. This offers a beautiful contrast.” Gaurav Genani, founder of Skelex speaks of Rotterdam fondly. He loves the city where he has lived and worked for the last three years, developing and his Skelex exoskeletons and bringing them to market. “Is Rotterdam for everyone? Probably not. But it is for me.” This is the story of an Indian dreamer turned entrepreneur, who found his home in Rotterdam.
Gaurav Genani didn’t always have his mind set on becoming an entrepreneur. When living in India as a young man, working with heavy machinery, he often found his mind wander, dreaming of different and more exciting things to do. By following courses and colleges Gaurav explored his interests and he became more and more interested in industrial design. “I started looking around to see what options I had. TU Delft in the Netherlands, very close to Rotterdam, came very well recommended. I decided to go there. When I was there I found it was not only about industrial design, it would be a combination of design and engineering. I can tell you, it was a pretty steep learning curve. But I soon felt like ‘this is what I want to do.’”
Pushing the limits of performance
One of Gaurav’s many interests had always been playing the guitar. Which led him into the field of ergonomics. “Because I saw that a lot of people who play the guitar actually have bad posture. I wanted to see if there was a way to improve that in such a way that it would help me play better and faster. I wanted to push the limits of performance. I feel that, as soon as you believe in your mind that you can make something happen, nothing can stop you. This gave me purpose and it also provided me with a different view on things, a perspective. It was then more about the journey than about any specific goal.”
From there and also with his own experiences in working with heavy machinery, Gaurav started to focus on how people move and how he could improve human motion in general. “A lot of people every day do a lot of repetitive motions, for instance in manufacturing or logistics. And any repetitive motions can cause injuries. I wanted to help people be better equipped dealing with these repetitive motions, which also oftentimes happen under some physical stress.” Still Gaurav wasn’t actively thinking about setting up a business. He started sharing thoughts and ideas with various people at TU Delft and they advised him to check out technology incubator YES!Delft. That was back in 2013. “I really didn’t set out become an entrepreneur, it just sort of happened. It’s serendipity.” At YES!Delft he found likeminded souls. People who shared his dreams of contributing to a better world and actively pursuing ways to do just that.
With the learnings from the TU Delft, his interests in ergonomics and his wish to improve the quality of life for people who have to deal with repetitive motions on a daily basis, Gaurav started designing and developing at YES!Delft what would later become the first Skelex exoskeleton. “It didn’t start out anything like what it is today. He remembers with a smile on his face. “Our first device was used to pick up a crate of beer. That was a cool moment. We had built something that people could love and use…”
From the first prototypes things started happening. In 2014 Gaurav and his product was featured on a Dutch TV show called Toekomstmakers (‘future makers’). This would turn out to be a key moment. “The show gave us a lot of publicity and attention. We got more questions and even customers after that. That period of time was really the birth of me as an entrepreneur. After getting our first customers in 2015, in 2016 we had found enough investments and traction to really start producing our exoskeletons.”
Be where the action is. For us that was Rotterdam.
To find the right place for his newly founded company Skelex, Gaurav looked at various locations. “Amsterdam, The Hague… As entrepreneur, you want to be where the action is and where your customers are. For us, that was right here in Rotterdam at the RDM grounds! Our first customer was Bilfinger, located practically just a stone’s throw away from where we are now at RDM Rotterdam. From Rotterdam it’s easy for us to reach out to customers in different countries. France is one of the main target countries for Skelex. That actually stems from contacts that we already had at YES!Delft.”
Relationships and contacts are vital
If Rotterdam was the right city for Gaurav and Skelex, RDM Rotterdam was the right business location for developing his startup company. “Relationships and contacts are vital for any starting business. Rotterdam is a place where people from other countries are accepted and where people actually want to develop a relationship. The people at RDM, some of whom I got in contact with when I was still at YES!Delft, were really important to the start of my company. They introduced me to the RDM facilities, showed me the potential there and helped me setup and make the most of this opportunity. They helped me get the right machinery, meet the right people, they gave me a lot of support. People like René Schmitt (Business Manager Real Estate for Port of Rotterdam), Jouke Goslinga (Program Director at RDM Rotterdam) and also Marc Goedkoop (CEO at MgAubel, a company also located at RDM Rotterdam) have been very important to me moving from YES!Delft to RDM Rotterdam, introducing me around to relevant contacts and investors. And also Rotterdam Partners and Gemeente Rotterdam have been very helpful in connecting us with the right people within Rotterdam. From the moment I found RDM Rotterdam, I felt that it could really happen for us here.”
Feels like home base
For Gaurav, Rotterdam turned out to be more than just the right business location. “I like being in Rotterdam. It really feels like home and I want to also give back to the city. Like I participated in the special movie Rotterdam Partners created for the Red Carpet Dinner1, which is aimed at welcoming international companies and internationals to the city. I like this, helping each other out. It’s the Rotterdam way of doing things. Indeed, to ‘Make It Happen‘ isn’t just a tagline, it is really embedded in the attitude of the people here in Rotterdam. Practical, hard-working people are easier to find in Rotterdam, which is really important for the manufacturing industry. I feel At home here. It’s like watering a plant. You love and nourish it, it starts to grow. It gives back what you put into it. Ignore it and it dies. Take good care of it, and it is healthy and grows. I feel like it’s like that for me at RDM and in the city of Rotterdam. Is Rotterdam for everyone? Probably not. But it is for me.”
Inspired by the desire to revolutionize physical work, Skelex envisions, design, and produce custom upper-body exoskeletons for industrial applications. Skelex combines intelligent mechanics with a thoughtfully user-centric and ergonomic design to give industrial employees greater endurance, strength, and effectiveness while completing physically straining tasks. Its products give employers an invaluable means of reducing workplace injuries and chronic upper-body strain while boosting the long-term health of workers. More information is available at this website.
About RDM Rotterdam
RDM Rotterdam – who celebrated its 10 year anniversary in 2019 – is the hotspot for innovation in the port: this is where the manufacturing industry of the future is taking shape. At RDM Rotterdam, entrepreneurs, students, researchers and visitors make up for a diverse and exciting environment. Together with Merwe-Vierhavens, RDM Rotterdam is part of the Rotterdam Makers District (together with M4H, the area on the north side of the river Maas). RDM Rotterdam is also one of the Rotterdam Make It Happen brand partners. Read about RDM Rotterdam on this page.
1 Red Carpet Dinner: yearly welcoming event of Rotterdam Partners for newly arrived international companies in Rotterdam.
Photos: Rotterdam Partners, Gerhard van Roon / Kunst en Vliegwerk RP (aerial photo), Guido Pijper
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