Startup Advice

Robogals founder Marita Cheng on the sacrifices involved in growing a startup without external investment

Emma Koehn /

Prominent robotics entrepreneur and Robogals founder Marita Cheng has plenty of projects in the pipeline, but the 28-year-old hasn’t yet accepted any external investments for her business.

“I’m not averse to it, I think I believe you want to accept investment where you’re at a point where you want to scale,” she told the crowd at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Mobile-ising Women in Business event in Melbourne on Tuesday.

The former Young Australian of the Year says one of the “really great things about Australia” is it has allowed her to apply for several grants to get her ideas off the ground.

But despite product sales and interest in her inventions, the road has been long.

“It’s been really tough — but I guess I just believed and started selling my product,” she said.

Read more: How Marita Cheng became one of Australia’s most important entrepreneurs

Along with her global engineering education not-for-profit Robogals, Cheng is founder of award-winning robotics startup aubot, which created telepresence robot Teleport to allow remote communication for telecommuters, hospital patients and those with disabilities.

Her business interests have meant that from the time she graduated university, she has been negotiating the tough process of hiring staff and growing a company.

“Rather than me getting a graduate salary, I was paying someone else’s salary,” she explained.

Ever since starting Robogals as a university student, Cheng says the path has been littered with “sacrifices and challenges”.

“There’s so many days when I wanted to give up and thought, ‘this is not happening’,” she says.

Asked by the crowd how she managed to motivate herself through years of product problem solving and grunt work before recognition arrived, Cheng gave two pieces of advice.

The first is that you need to do something that lets you “work with a team around you” and means you’ll be motivated to “keep running” for regardless of the money.

The second is to think of businesses in three-year blocks, because projects take time to become fully formed.

“It takes three years to figure out what you’re doing with your company,” she said.

“After the three year mark, I started getting recognised for my work. Then it finally feels like ‘I know how to build robots now!’ This is the fun part.”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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