From Total Blockade to Delivery of Croatian Robots to USA

Lauren Simmonds

STEMI says that the ongoing coronavirus crisis has increased the prices of inputs by up to 20 and even 30 percent, and extended the procurement deadlines by two to three times. Croatian robots are wanted in the US!

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Bernard Ivezic writes on the 21st of July, 2020 the domestic startup STEMI set off on Tuesday with the first deliveries of its robots to California, the state where the famous Silicon Valley is located. More than 50 American schools located from California to Texas and Arizona, all the way to Florida, Connecticut and New Jersey, bought some Croatian educational robots in a package with educational content for STEM education around two months ago.

This is one of the greatest Croatian successes in adapting business to the conditions of the “new normal” that developed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Marin Troselj, the co-founder and director of STEMI, says that he almost had a nervous breakdown in March, because their work simply stopped completely.

Back at the end of last year, STEMI raised 319,000 euros or 2.4 million kuna of capital through Funderbeam SEE in order to expand to the American market in 2020.

“In March, we started selling and in the first three weeks we reached as much as 20 percent of the sales target for this year, and then quarantines started and schools from the USA started calling us and cancelling their orders,” Troselj recalls.

He says they immediately changed their strategy that fourth week. They stepped up their communication through digital channels with American schools, introduced a series of changes and prepared for the next opportunity. It opened for them in May.

He states that schools in the US have money, they’re very interested in STEM and they continue to invest. Even those who aren’t currently buying robots are buying laptops intensively so that their students can work from home. Some schools have therefore frozen their budgets for other things as they wait for September to see how the situation with the coronavirus pandemic develops. Troselj says that the most important thing for them now is to deliver all the contracted orders, and emphasises that, as things seem at the moment, they will manage to achieve that.

“We were also a little lucky, because culturally, schools in the United States are like kindergartens, they also serve to look after children while their parents work so that they’re still in function with them,” says Troselj. He adds that the transformation of the company in such a short time has been very challenging indeed, not only in terms of sales but also in communication to investors and in production, as well as planning for future development. He states that STEMI now communicates with major investors on a daily basis, and with the bigger ones on a monthly basis. In addition, they are currently preparing to send out a quarterly report.

“We didn’t reach the set goals for this quarter, but we couldn’t have predicted the coronavirus pandemic. However, investors have an understanding, because we inform them in detail about everything we’re doing and that’s why we get to enjoy their support,” says Troselj. In production and planning for future development, he states that the coronavirus crisis has increased the prices of inputs by up to 20 and even 30 percent, and extended the procurement deadlines by two to three times. He points out that some hardware factories in China have had to shut down, others have slowed down the pace of their deliveries, and transportation has slowed.

“The biggest challenge was the fact that we were supposed to start our production in May, and we were just starting a real ‘new normal’ sale and we couldn’t immediately know how many robots we needed to produce,” says Troselj.

He explains that they didn’t want to overcrowd the parts warehouse, nor did they want to question the deliveries. In addition, before the coronavirus struck Croatia, they planned to go to China for a short time and personally perform some of the necessary tests before delivering the parts.

This way, he says, they had to hire an R&D company from Shenzhen to do the job for them. He adds that they intend to continue to adapt.

“Some schools have even increased their orders from us, because they’re conducting education from home, so they ordered additional robots. However, we’re already looking for space for growth in programmes that aren’t related to hardware,” concludes Troselj.

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