Our vision is that GRIP will serve as the central hub of the Upper Midwest robotics industry. The robotics industry offers a compelling regional economic development opportunity for the Upper Midwest.

Interview With Nena Street, The Global Robotics Innovation Park

Nena Street | The Global Robotics Innovation Park

What is your vision for GRIP?

The Global Robotics Innovation Park, or GRIP for short, will be a research park and business incubator for the robotics industry in the Upper Midwest. GRIP will include a mixed-use real estate development containing light industrial, office and laboratory facilities for high-tech research, development, testing and evaluation of robotic, autonomous and intelligent systems, and related business incubation, classroom and event space.

Serving as the hub of a regional industry cluster, GRIP will offer tenants common technologies, knowledge, and resources. Although many companies will co-locate within GRIP, other participants in the Upper Midwest robotics industry will remain and thrive in other urban and rural communities.

Where did the idea come from?

Last fall was the inaugural Robotics Alley conference, which brought together a diverse group of robotics companies, academic institutions and government agencies to discuss the future of robotics in the Upper Midwest. The vision for GRIP grew out Robotics Alley conversations. It was then incubated under the leadership of ReconRobotics, and ultimately handed off to my company. We are stewards of a the GRIP vision.

How is the project being funded?

We are currently in the concept planning phase of the project. This portion of the project was funded by individuals and institutions in the robotics industry. A portion of our charge during this phase of the project is to identify funding streams for development of GRIP. 

Why build a robotics park in Minnesota?

Minnesota is a global leader in ground robotics and industrial robotics. Minnesota’s robotics economy includes basic and applied research institutions, well-established businesses and young companies, professional associations and extensive resources in complimentary industries. Minnesota already has strong industry clusters in bioscience, agriculture, retail, mining and industrial manufacturing. Robotics innovations will benefit these traditional Minnesota industries, as well as emerging industries, including unmanned aerial vehicles, security and defense.

The individuals, organizations and communities that seize the opportunity to be a part of the robotics revolution will prosper. If Minnesota is going to be an integral part of the global robotics industry, we must act now. In the Upper Midwest, we have all the elements necessary to thrive in the global robotics revolution; we just need a place to organize those efforts. GRIP will be that place.

So this isn't just a Minnesota project?

Our vision is that GRIP will serve as the central hub of the Upper Midwest robotics industry. The robotics industry offers a compelling regional economic development opportunity for the Upper Midwest. With its central location and robust and growing robotics economy, we believe the Twin Cities Metro Area in Minnesota is the ideal site for GRIP.

What are the benefits to tenants?

GRIP will include research, development, testing and evaluation facilities for academic and applied research in robotic, autonomous and intelligent systems and the hardware and software that support them. RDT&E facilities will include high-tech and low-tech equipment, including prototyping and demonstration equipment. The facilities will be available for use by all participants in the robotics economy, including businesses, academic institutions, government agencies, and inventors. Through shared RDT&E space, GRIP efficiencies will enhance the competitiveness of GRIP tenants.

GRIP will be an important part of the Upper Midwest’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Through economies of scale in business incubation and technology transfer resources, GRIP will reduce barriers to entry for fledgling robotics companies. GRIP will offer flexible office space, access to expensive equipment, and a network of legal, financial, and manufacturing resources. GRIP may also include a formal accelerator program.

GRIP tenants will have access to shared conference, cafeteria, and event space, thereby reducing their overall lease costs. Moreover, tenants will have the option to share business resources related to business development, market analysis, marketing communications, IT, human capital management, legal support, and financial and accounting management.

GRIP will also offer tenants access to and understanding of the entire network of participants in the Upper Midwest robotics industry, including companies that offer hardware and software design solutions, prototyping, and manufacturing at all scales.

GRIP classroom and laboratory space will provide students with resources to conduct basic and applied research in robotics and automated systems. At GRIP, students can obtain hands-on experience designing, building, installing, operating and troubleshooting high-tech, high-speed robotic, autonomous and intelligent systems.

An essential part of GRIP will be anchor tenants, like ReconRobotics, Inc. GRIP will include office space for well-established and emerging businesses in the robotics industry, complimentary businesses, and academic institutions. Government agencies serving the Upper Midwest’s entrepreneurial and high-tech industries may also wish to locate within GRIP.

Can companies, schools and individuals be involved with GRIP if they do not become tenants?

Yes. Not all users of GRIP facilities will be GRIP tenants. GRIP will make its amenities available to non-tenants, and this can be accomplished in a variety of ways.

It important to note that our goals for GRIP extend beyond a traditional real estate development. Through GRIP, we aim to increase the revenue and market share of Upper Midwest companies by promoting the global reputation of the robotics industry in our region, increase the number of local engineers and technicians with relevant robotics expertise, facilitate public-private partnerships, and connect businesses with complementary technology. Through GRIP, we aim to leverage the unique expertise and resources of all participants in the Upper Midwest robotics industry to create a decisive and sustainable economic advantage for decades to come.

What will it cost to run the center and how will continuing operations be funded?

Because we are just in the concept planning stage, I cannot answer that question at this time.

Look into your crystal ball and give us your vision of what the activities at GRIP will look like in 5 to 10 years?

In my vision, GRIP looks and feels like a cross between a small college campus and a fast-growing high-tech start-up—a thriving, productive, creative community of individuals and teams working on important and exciting robotics projects. GRIP tenants will include established robotics companies of all sizes working on a wide variety of robotics innovations. Some of those companies may move their entire business operation into the park, others will be companies based in other parts of the world that will send a small team of people to GRIP.   GRIP tenants will also include R&D groups from large corporations that are working to integrate robotics innovations into their business model. Tenants will also include a variety of entrepreneurs developing new products and launching new businesses in the robotics industry. Academic tenants will include university research institutions working on basic and applied research, often in collaboration with industry tenants. Community and technical college programs will likewise find a home within GRIP, where students can get hands-on experience working with cutting edge equipment on projects of immediate relevance to industry and government.

In my vision, GRIP has its own gravity. It is a destination for the innovative, hardworking individuals working at the intersection of hardware and software who will lead our nation into the so-called Robotics Revolution. 


About Nena Street

Nena Street is founder and CEO of Robotics Innovation, LLC, the company leading efforts to build the Global Robotics Innovation Park (GRIP).

Nena is an attorney with a practice focused on real estate development and government contracting. As CEO of Robotics Innovation, Nena draws from a wealth of experience gained by representing clients on all sides of public-private partnerships. While practicing law, Nena helps developers and local governments secure financing and partner to accomplish complex land use, development, employment and infrastructure goals. Nena’s background provides her with a firsthand account of what works and what doesn’t in complex real estate development.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of RoboticsTomorrow

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