Sara Jennings, co-founder of Orion Labs in Nunn, is one of three startups to win a $5K grant from our Founder Coopetition.
This spring, Startup Colorado relaunched its Founder Coopetition, a 4-week program that helped 12 founders and co-founders advance their businesses. The Founder Coopetition awarded three participating companies with a $5,000 grant based on their progress, deliverables, and final pitch throughout the program. Sara Jennings, founder of Orion Labs, is one of those three winners.
Orion Labs is a robotic research institution that is working to solve robotic issues through applied machine learning. Their recent development helps outdoor mobile robots better understand their environment to avoid obstacles and swiftly finish their jobs. We spoke with Jennings to learn more about Orion Labs and her experience participating in the Founder Coopetition.
Startup Colorado: What is the inspiration behind Orion Labs?
Sara Jennings: Our company was founded in a love for robotics. Our team realized the potential for robots to be able to be used for important tasks in the agriculture sector and beyond, but noticed a key component was missing. The available sensors on the market for safety and understanding the environment can be costly, may not work in challenging outdoor environments, and require additional compute hardware to run. Our company was built to bring an all-in-one system to the market with multiple sensing technologies, onboard compute and an intelligence layer all for a lower cost. The end goal is to make robots safer.
SUCO: When you started the Founder Coopetition, what were the biggest challenges facing Orion Labs?
SJ: When I started the Founder Coopetition program, some of the challenges our company was facing was how best to tell our story and what mechanisms we should use to fund our company.
SUCO: Throughout the four-week program you were tasked with various exercises and deliverables. How did these help you address your challenges?
SJ: The exercises and group meetings helped me keep up the momentum of my company. I was able to better craft the narrative about our company and why it exists. I was able to get real-time feedback to integrate into my story to make it more understandable, relatable and exciting.
SUCO: The Founder Coopetition mixes the ideas of “collaboration” with “competition.” How did this format inform the way you approach developing your business?
SJ: This was an amazing format because it allowed me to learn from the other founder’s in the group and gain different perspectives. Everyone had a unique background, diverse skill sets, companies and strengths. I was able to have 1:1 conversations with founders that had experience in an area that I was lacking. It was also great to be able to know that you are not alone in your struggles as an entrepreneur—that others are facing similar issues and to be able to learn from others insights.
SUCO: There are a lot of people who wouldn’t expect to see a tech business launching in a rural community. How has your experience of launching Orion Labs in Nunn challenged that notion?
SJ: Orion Labs thrives in a rural community because we are able to utilize our experience in robotics and use the land and our warehouse for robotic demonstrations, outdoor data collection and testing. These are things we would not be able to do in the city. Since our first target market is the agriculture technology market, this gives us first-hand experience testing our systems in outdoor environments. Rural Colorado is the perfect place for us.
Startup Colorado will be running an additional three Founder Coopetition cohorts for founders in rural Colorado. Learn more.