York U start-up rebounds to find success in face of COVID-19 pandemic

It’s not where they thought they’d be in the final months of 2020, but the team behind a York University start-up has found success in their redefined business model.

SV Robotics Academy’s CEO Mayu Ganesathas, a third-year mechanical engineering student at York University, COO Thip Balakrishnan, a York University space engineering graduate, and CTO Glenn Murphy, McGill University engineering graduate, were just beginning to see marked growth in their business when the global pandemic forced mass closures in the business sector.

The team launched SV Robotics Academy in the fall of 2018, using a small industrial office to provide a platform for children ages six to 18 to learn robotics through project-based curriculum and apply what they’ve learned in projects, competitions and idea-hackathons. In January 2019, the company was accepted into YSpace, York University’s incubator program, and helped it grow its annual recurring revenue from $60,000 to $250,000.

“SV’s students saw success and placed in the top five at Waterloo NASA Hackathon, Brampton Spark Hackathon and York University Hack,” said Ganesathas. “SV’s core belief, that student’s capabilities are greater than the traditional school system standards, was proving to be true.”

Looking forward, the company prepared for an exciting summer 2020 and planned to host summer camps with Yamaha Music School, University of Toronto, and Brampton Center For Entrepreneurship – but none of this would happen.

On March 12, SV Robotics Academy notified clients it would temporarily shut down due to new health and safety protocols outlined by the government in response to COVID-19. But as it became clear that pandemic response measures would continue long term, the team knew they had to reimagine their platform to continue to serve their clients.

“We felt that moving from an engaging and exciting SV classroom would be an ugly juxtaposition to the awkward and dull Zoom meeting,” said Murphy. “So, within a week, we released a beta for SV Robotics Online.”

The online experience was designed to award student engagement, offering points to those who posted projects or ideas, helped peers, and posted opinions and recommendations. Every six months, the top 10 students would be awarded exciting prizes, such as Airpods, Chromebooks or Amazon gift cards.

“We released the website to its existing clients and began running weekly classes and online hackathons,” said Murphy. “Since this was a drastic change from the original offering, the company offered this all for free from March to April.”

Despite financial struggles during those months, the SV Robotics team persisted and by the end of April, officially launched SV Robotics Online to the public. In June, the company saw 70 new students sign up for weekly lessons, and fast-forward to November, the website has 120 daily users. After a massive loss, the company rebounded to a stronger, more scalable position.

“Finding success in the pandemic was not simple, and the sacrifice that SV made was not a luxury that most startups have,” said Balakrishnan. “With a focus on the product and adapting to work from home, SV pivoted out of the freefall with some scars but is now more vital than ever.”

SV Robotics Academy Online will launch a new platform on Jan.1, 2021, and will be accepting bright and curious students from anywhere in North America. The company is also seeking instructors and success managers and suggests that York students passionate about teaching technology to younger students should send their resume to info@svrobotics.ca.

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, deputy editor, YFile

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