How this Dubai-based startup is using junk to spur creativity in kids

JunkBot, founded in 2015, enables children to think out of the box by providing DIY kits to help them build robots and gadgets from almost anything.

Children tend to tinker with and take apart their toys and then use the components to make a whole new object. The fascination for building blocks in tiny tots is a timeless one. Only, in years bygone, children did not have the tools to indulge their passion to the full and invent cool objects.

Inspired by the famous Thomas Edison quote ‘to invent all you need is imagination and a pile of junk’, friends Ehteshamuddin PA, Abdus Samad, Sinan Thottan, Rajeev MSN, and Arun Kumar thought, why not give this power to all children and makers?

Hence, JunkBot came into being in 2015 to realise the team’s vision – inventors in every home.

The team at JunkBot

JunkBot enables its target base of young users to make robots and gadgets from almost anything.

“Most of the other solutions provide students with plug-and-play components in a box to build a robot or gadget. But, at JunkBot, we motivate students to recycle things around them to make robots and gadgets. Household objects such as bottles, CDs, wooden spoons, and cardboard can be used to create unique and imaginative robots. This reduces the dependency on plastic for the creations,” says Ehtesham.

JunkBot provides a DIY kit, giving youngsters the flexibility to invent the robot and gadget of their choice and enabling them to think outside the box. The robots can be programmed for a variety of functions and different levels of skill.

As the students create new shapes, they learn the core STEAM concepts of analytical thinking, problem-solving, prototyping, lateral thinking, and building. 

Building up

Ehtesham previously worked for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bengaluru and has been involved in the production of satellite launching vehicles like PSLV and GSLV. Rajeev is the Chief Hardware Engineer at JunkBot with four years of experience in hardware and three years in educational robotics.

Abdus, who did his MBA from Manipal, is managing the finance and operations, while Mohammed Sinan, with seven years of experience in app development, leads the software development. Arun is a passionate coder with seven years of experience in the field.

As most of the founders are from Kerala, JunkBot was started up in Kerala and then subsequently moved to Dubai.

Speaking on the decision to shift to Dubai, Ehtesham says,

“Dubai makes a great test-bed due to its wide demographic base and the diverse nationalities that reside there. Our core target consumers are students, and Dubai has a range of schools across IB, British, CBSE, and other major curriculums, thereby enabling us to reach out to them in an organised way.”

The company has received the support of Dubai Startup Hub, which helps startups and founders in the city with gaining clarity, guidance, and direction.

As the Dubai Startup Hub is supported by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, it also collaborates with the most experienced and trusted partners to exchange essential and up-to-date information that can address all entrepreneurship-related questions. This association has, therefore, enabled JunkBot to seamlessly connect and interact with corporates and government offices to pitch its business.

Today, JunkBot sells its products to schools, governments, corporates, and retail and online stores. Its clientele includes Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, Microsoft, PWC, ENOC, and Gems Schools.

Ehtesham shares the team’s belief that Dubai can become the Silicon Valley of the MENA region on the back of its exceptional infrastructure and resources, which will result in the development and growth of startups. He adds,

“The overall ecosystem provides positive support to startups and fosters innovation. Additionally, steps taken by the Dubai Startup Hub that concentrate on investment-focussed events have opened the door for Indian startups to participate and pitch their ventures to international investors. This positive step will create new areas of synergy and cooperation between UAE and Indian startups.” 

How does it work?

JunkBot’s offerings aim to introduce STEAM education through DIY robotics in the adaptive learning space. It provides different kinds of kits named 'Junkbot Edukit', 'Junkbot Super bot' and 'Junkbot AI Kit'. All three kits aim to teach children about analytical thinking, problem-solving, prototyping, lateral thinking and building while keeping the lesson fun. All these kits are available on JunkBot’s website.

The startup’s technology stack focusses on Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, and robotics and has been developed to match the current market and technology trends. 

Its custom-designed, homegrown, pocket-sized microcontroller embedded with WiFi and Bluetooth modules eliminates the need for additional breakout boards to control the robots. Also, it has simplified the age-old mode of connection that uses the jumper wire method with easy-to-use plug-and-play wiring.

JunkBot also supplies ‘Card Bricks’, which are essentially building blocks made out of cardboard. This cardboard building block puzzle, once solved, acts as a base for the robot. 

The startup’s JunkBot Inventors platform is a tech hub for future inventors that hosts kit and component details and tutorials to make robots using the JunkBot DIY kit. Also, young inventors can submit their ideas/tutorials and collaborate with other users.

Market space

According to a recent market research report, ‘Programmable Robots Market by Component (Hardware and Software), Application (Education & Research and Hobbyist and Entertainment) – Global Forecast for 2020’, the global market for programmable robots was valued at $1,050 million in 2014 and is expected reach $2,381.5 million by 2020, at a CAGR of 14.94 percent from 2015 to 2020.

“There is a massive gap in the market for the delivery of STEAM skills. In a study by Microsoft Corporation, the results explain that four out of five STEM college (78 percent) students say they decided to study STEM in high school or earlier and one in five (21 percent) in the middle classes or earlier. Only one in five STEM college students feel that their K-12 education prepared them exceptionally well for their college courses in STEM. JunkBot wants to tap into this market gap and build a successful and scalable business,” explains Ehtesham.

The founders claim that JunkBot has generated a revenue of $1.5 million in the last two years. COGS sales revenue has increased by 172 percent year-on-year.

The team has got incubated at IN5 tech, which focusses on creating opportunities for entrepreneurs in the technology sector of the UAE and the MENA region.

IN5 helped us incorporate our startup at subsidised costs as well as by connecting us with corporates, media, and mentors. We also received $30,000 from Start-up Chile,” shares Ehtesham.

TURN8 is a programme hosted by DP World to scout for marketable early-stage ideas and concepts which can be incubated in their seed accelerator. JunkBot is one of the few startups that received their backing and was supported with initial funding of $30,000 and customer contacts.

“While working in Dubai, we started funding the startup from our salaries. When we received investments from DP World-backed TURN8 accelerator, we started focussing fulltime on the startup,” adds Ehtesham.

The team is currently working on a subscription-based content platform to scale new heights in the future.

(Edited by Athirupa Geetha Manichandar)


Updates from around the world