2020. A Very Different Rollercoaster

A year ago, if you had asked me where I’d taken Tekuma over the last year or so, I would have said London, Paris, Toulouse, Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, San Francisco, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Boston, San Diego, Las Vegas, Denver, Seoul, and Toronto. If 2019 was the year of travel for us, 2020 was certainly the year of virtual.

Since 2016, our robotics hardware startup, Tekuma, has gone from problems to prototypes, from patents to paying customers. Michael & I (Annette), as founders, have managed to maintain 100% equity. We have respectively developed plenty of prototypes and pitches along the way and had our share of pivots between industries and target markets. Today, our technology is still innovative, intuitive, and now, industry-ready.

We landed in Sydney at the end of October 2019, realising we wanted to focus on our local Australian customers, we made plans to do so in 2020, returning to Adelaide just before 2020 started. We were excited by the prospect of new customers and trials which inevitably fell through with the onset of the pandemic.  We were very fortunate to celebrate our wedding 02/02/2020 with over a hundred friends & family in my parents’ Sydney backyard between bushfires, flooding & pandemic. We even got to go to Japan for our honeymoon landing back in Adelaide on 1st March before any quarantines began. We quarantined anyway, finding ourselves sick with severe influenza for six weeks, carefully cleaning and avoiding our housemates who remarkably did not get sick despite all four of us working from home during this period. Choosing to adapt rather than worry over the uncontrollable we kept forging ahead.

It was May before new ways forward started emerging, with virtual programs providing new opportunities. We signed up with Adelaide University’s ThincLab Sprint, and were winners of Biogen’s Neurohack to aid teenagers with neurological disabilities there. Remarkable ran their Designathon from Sydney and Tekuma was a finalist in the gaming accessibility category. I virtually mentored for a few Hacker Exchange Programs while Michael volunteered for FIRST Robotics teams. Our major customer, UnderseaROV, developed the ROVorb controller which in collaboration with our orb technology is made for underwater rovers, started going out to customers. We filed for EMDG based on all that previous travel plus our international patent filings and were awarded that in October. Core picked me for their Female Founders program, run out of Perth, we won on Demo Day in November and were invited to the Core Exchange Showcase and Bootcamp. La Trobe welcomed us into GMAP, exploring market opportunities in Indonesia, India, & Belgium but eventually we were chosen to pursue Singapore, which we are also exploring with ThincLab. We participated in RMIT Activator, learning alongside purpose-focused founders which showcases online on 17th December.

2020 reminded us to focus on what you can control & take advantage of every opportunity.

However, our biggest win was being awarded the Boosting Female Founders Grant of AUD$150k, announced in December. Along with our own funds, this will allow us to do the tooling to scale our manufacturing and start serving bigger customers. It means we have an awesome plan for the next 18 months and the capital to do it.

Bring on 2021!

Annette McClelland, Co-Founder, and CEO