Startup Q&A - Tennibot Ends the Annoyance of Collecting Askew Tennis Balls
No one likes to stop a sports game or match, and tennis is no exception. One common issue is with picking up askew tennis balls from other players or ones that may have been lost in a serve. It’s an annoying issue since players will have to go and pick it up themselves, sometimes halting the momentum of the match or stopping it for an unneeded amount of time.
Tennibot is a robotics-focused startup that has developed an unmonitored tennis ball collector that solves this issue and gets players back to serving aces.
VentureFizz spoke with Tennibot’s Founder and CEO Haitham Eletrabi and CTO Xianglin (Lincoln) Wang about how they have developed their robots and how they work. During our conversation, the two spoke at length about the various competitions and expos they have participated in, including CES this year and the inaugural Tennis Innovation Challenge.
CB: Is anyone on the team an avid tennis fan/player?
HE: Actually almost everybody on the team play tennis. Different levels but we all enjoy the sport. I started playing about 10 years ago and I fell in love with the sport. Played in many amateur tournaments and been heavily involved in the local tennis community. Xianglin also has been playing tennis for about four-to-five years now. When we are not in the office, we are usually hitting on a tennis court.
CB: I’m a big fan of the phrase “origin story.” What are the origins of Tennibot?
HE: It was born out of frustration. I always hated picking up balls and, one day after hitting what felt like thousands of tennis balls with the ball machine, I got to the point that I said, “That’s it! I won’t pick up any more balls!”
I tried to buy something but there was nothing out there that is robotic or automated. So, I did some research to see if it can be done or not. After feeling confident about the technical side, I started asking tennis players to rank their top 3 frustrations of playing tennis and I would always find picking up balls as one of the most frustrating aspects of playing tennis. This is when I started prototyping the Tennibot and shortly afterward I met Xianglin and we started to make a lot of progress with the product.
CB: What is the ultimate goal of Tennibot?
XW: Allow players to enjoy their time on the court and maximizes their hitting time by eliminating the worst part of playing tennis. Tennibot allows coaches to play more with their students.
CB: Explain what your company does. If it’s a particular software/platform/service/etc. how does it work? Any use case that stands out to you?
XW: Tennibot builds the world's first autonomous tennis ball collectors. It uses cameras, sensors, and algorithms to detect the balls and picks them up without input from players. An ideal use case is coaches, tennis clubs, players with tennis ball machines or any player who likes to improve their game by practice.
CB: How big is the team? Looking to hire any particular position in the upcoming months?
XW: The team is small but growing, we are looking to hire another software developer within the next few weeks.
CB: Has your company participated in any trade shows/meetup events in the Boston area? What about events outside of Boston?
XW: We exhibited in CES earlier this month in Las Vegas. The show was great for us and received a lot of pre-orders. We were featured on Discovery Channel, Time.com, and HGTV. We also met a lot of distributors and suppliers during the show. We will be exhibiting this coming March in World Nano Fair in San Francisco.
HE: At CES, we won the CES Innovation Award Honoree for the Robotics & Drones vertical. Tennibot also competed at the first-ever Tennis Innovation Challenge, which is organized by the Tennis Industry Association. We later took home first place at the competition competing against 37 established companies.
CB: MassRobotics is one of those organizations that often flies under the radar in the Boston tech scene. Tell me more about your time at MassRobotics?
XW: MassRobotics is an ideal space for robotics startups. It provides resources that are extremely useful for hardware folks. The lab space, software and tailored events are some of the few things they provide. We are fairly new in the space but we are excited about working with MR and the great opportunities they provide to us from prototyping all the way to manufacturer/supplier intros.
CB: Who are the customers of Tennibot? Country clubs, schools, etc.?
HE: Tennis coaches, clubs, programs, recreational tennis players, college players and any player who practice couple of times a week or owns a tennis ball machine.
CB: Is the company bootstrapped or seeking investments?
HE: So far, we maintained a pretty low burn rate that allowed us to make a lot of progress on a fairly low budget. Over the next couple of months, we will be raising our seed round.
CB: I’m always interested in how a startup came up with its name. How did Tennibot get its name?
HE: It is our second choice, it is a combination of tennis and robots. We felt it will be easy to understand and remember!