Reprinted from the Boston Business Journal (July 31, 2012)
South Boston’s Artaic, which uses robotics technology to build custom tile mosaics, this month was named among the 10 finalists for the 2012 MassVentures START program.
The company received $100,000 as part of the award from START, a $6 million dollar initiative that aids local companies growth through SBIR contracts.
Founded in 2007, Artaic is led by CEO Ted Acworth, who says the company’s forte is fast, accurate and affordable production of mosaic tilescapes. The arrangements can be assembled from a wide variety of materials, including eco-friendly sintered glass and domestically produced unglazed porcelain.
I recently spoke with Acworth about where the company currently sits and where it’s headed.
What stage are you at?
"We’ve always thought of ourselves as a scrappy startup. Recently, we were accused of not being a startup. At first I resisted that, but then I realized we’re in the growth stage. We proven the concept, we’ve proven that the application of these technologies to this market makes sense and provides enormous benefits."
What are your roots and how did you get to where you are now?
"I have a background in precision mechanical systems, objects, image processing and robotics. It was the right tool-set, and it felt like the tile industry was a great place to apply that skill-set."
What’s the inspiration behind Artaic?
"The idea was to create a love of art, design, and creativity with the knowledge of technology. We wanted to get to do the most amazing tile projects on earth."
Are you looking to raise more funding?
"We’re always interested, always looking for the right ways to grow. If we find the right investors that are the right people to work with, we’re always open for it. We did a friends and family round, an angel round as well. We’ve raised over $1 million in funding from angel, grants, loans and other sources. "
I was surprised to learn you’re the one of few doing what you are with tiles.
"There are other companies that make mosaics, for sure, but they’re at the very upper top, miniscule tier of the tile market, and it’s very expensive. It’s largely done by hand labor, and it makes it very logistically challenging, very expensive, the lead times are ten times longer. Most customers elect not to do mosaics. We feel that we can make mosaic much more accessible, much more popular, and thus, more of society can enjoy beautiful mosaics and artwork."
What other value do you propose to potential customers?
"We offer amazing service, extremely reliable renderings and blueprints of what they’re going to get. They can very quickly, efficiently and accurately come to a visualization of what the artwork is going to look like. When we send them a proposal, it’s literally a blueprint of the mosaic, tile by tile. This is exactly what they’re going to get, and consumers have never had that before. The market has never had that kind of fidelity; they’re starting to feel really good about mosaic again."
Are you worried competition could pose a challenge to you sooner than expected?
"We keep an eye on the competition, but we’re lean and light we grow really fast. Our second-generation robot is ten times faster than our first generation robot. We’re about to be 100 times faster on production, compared to human labor. I feel that by the time the competition tries to enter, we’ll be on the next generation."
Who is currently using your product?
"We focus on the American market in terms of how we contact commercial interior designers and architects. The good news is that American architects and interior designers do one-third of all projects elsewhere in the world. If you’re designing a new hotel, restaurant, casino or yacht in any location, there’s about a one-in-three chance you’re going to go to an American firm. We love that because we get reach. Currently we’re working on a dozen projects outside the USA."
What is your biggest project to date?
"Empire Restaurant was the biggest square footage — 1,850 square feet of mosaic uses 266,400 individual 1-foot porcelain tiles."
Anything else you’d like to say to readers?
"What pops into mind is that entrepreneurship is alive and well, and a hell of a lot of fun. We have amazing ecosystem here in Massachusetts. I think we’re doing well in terms of quality and volume of sheer entrepreneurial activity right now. We’ve got an amazing industry. That’s one message, and I’m excited to be a part of it."