September 12, 2022 - 10:39 am

Founder’s Story: Matt Goddard and Hybrid Robotics

By 20Fathoms

In 2022, Traverse City, Mich. gained three spots on the “Best of the Midwest: Startup Cities Rankings” due to growing resources for startup founders including access to angel and venture capital, pitch competitions, and the 20Fathoms startup incubator.

Hybrid Robotics is one company founded in Traverse City that took advantage of these local resources and has seen great success. As the company continues to scale, 20Fathoms is celebrating its graduation from the startup incubator. We recently spoke with co-founder Matt Goddard about his experience and how the company got its start. 

Low budgets, big ideas 

Hybrid Robotics co-founder Matt Goddard works on a prototype of the Catalina USH1 at the Northwestern Michigan College Maker Space.

The best product ideas come from a business need. However, seeing the vision of a business need before it happens – that’s where entrepreneurs really become successful. 

That’s exactly what Matt Goddard, Ryan Mater, and Aaron Bottke did when they created a winning combination of marine technology and unmanned aerial systems in 2018, leading to the formation of their company Hybrid Robotics. At the time, they were students at Northwestern Michigan College, working on their ideas in the classroom and the college’s Maker Space. Their beginning concept was a drone that landed on the water and deployed an underwater robotic technology. 

“At the very beginning, we knew the idea was something different and it gained traction quickly,” said Matt. “We realized it had merit in the industry.”

Like any startup, one of their first challenges was to create a prototype on a very limited budget. Matt remembers utilizing pieces of chair legs and many trips to Joann Fabrics for other materials to make their idea come to life. 

Six weeks later, after creation and testing, they had a small prototype that allowed them to show this never-before-seen idea to their class. After that, their prototype took off very quickly. It became known as the Catalina USH 1, they pitched it at a TCNewTech pitch competition, joined 20Fathoms, and soon captured the attention of local investors at Boomerang Catapult.  

“Early on, we had a spot at the 20Fathoms coworking space and that’s where we started to build the company,” said Matt. “It was great meeting investors, meeting other companies, and building the company. It provided the structure that we needed to move forward to as a manufacturing company.”

Developing new solutions 

By 2020, Hybrid Robotics was gaining a foothold and one of their key sales tactics was product demonstrations at conferences. But with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, conferences were canceled and this business development pathway dried up. They needed a new plan.  

Matt and his cofounders pivoted and decided to take the technology that they developed for the Catalina and make it available to the market. They named the new product TMS (Tether Management System) and sold it to companies that needed to put boats on the water to complete missions that took months at a time. Today, they have several different product lines for sale globally including SARbot, an underwater search and recovery robot. 

Matt Goddard, co-founder of Hybrid Robotics

From veteran to founder

Before he was a successful startup founder, Matt was a U.S. Marine. During his time in the Corps, he served as a combat engineer searching for roadside bombs. He also flew drones searching for IEDs and this is where he developed an interest in unmanned technology. 

He knew he wanted to continue learning and developing that passion. After the Marine Corps, Matt and his wife decided to move to Traverse City and he enrolled at Northwestern Michigan College. 

Matt believes his experience in the military which included a focus on structure, teamwork, and mission-focused goals were valuable when it came to starting a successful company. Not only, Matt points to the help available to veterans when starting a business. 

“Veterans should know that there is help available when starting a business,” Matt said. “There are many benefits that veterans can utilize and this helps the challenge of funding become less daunting.”

An environment for success 

Matt believes that the resources provided in Traverse City by Northwestern Michigan College, TCNewTech, 20Fathoms, Boomerang Catapult, and Northern Michigan Angels have been invaluable. 

Today, Matt and the leadership at Hybrid Robotics look forward to continuing to scale the business and develop new product ideas. 

“This year we’re focusing on the pipelines necessary to get the product out the door,” said Matt. “It’s been pretty incredible to see an actual sales pipeline and generate interest in the community for our products.”

Thank you for your service, Matt, and we look forward to watching Hybrid Robotics continue to grow and succeed!

Photo credit: Center on Rural Innovation