Jake Loosararian Builds Gecko Robotics To Protect Critical Infrastructure
The American Society of Civil Engineers report card for American Infrastructure gave the US a C- in 2021. That’s not surprising given that the US ranked number 42 in infrastructure spending as a percentage of GDP at 0.55% vs the 5.8% of GDP spent by the number one infrastructure spender, China, according to the latest data from Statista.
The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed in November of 2021 was meant to address that problem. But it could take years for many major projects to start. In the meantime, most large segments of our infrastructure, like energy plants and refineries, must be repaired, retrofitted and made more efficient until more modern plants are built, which might take a decade to plan and build. Moreover, very few are currently planned for construction.
How do we make the most of what we have? Gecko Robotics may be one answer. Founded in 2013 by Jake Loosararian and fellow Grove City College alumni and Carnegie Mellon MBA, Troy Demmer, Gecko’s mission is to protect critical infrastructure through the collection and contextualization of physical data collected via “Gecko-like” robots that crawl inside harsh and dangerous environments like nuclear reactors and giant boilers.
Loosararian first recognized the need for technology that enables this kind of information after visiting a nuclear power plant in college. “I was always fascinated with big engineering projects like energy plants and I found someone who ran a power plant and was introduced to this entire world that was hidden from most people. In talking to the power plant manager, I found that this power plant had four shutdowns due to critical infrastructure failures that couldn’t be predicted. And that blew my mind. I learned that that’s actually par for the course and that other industries like refineries, ships at dry dock, rockets and airplanes have the same problems,” says Loosararian .
In looking into the question of why even a relatively new power plant would fail so often, he found that the main problem was that the structural integrity of its boilers were often at risk of failing due to its harsh environment. The plant manager would then have to regularly shut down the plant and inspect the interior of the boilers. The process was dangerous and expensive because it was conducted by humans writing on note pads while dangling up to 100 feet in the air from ropes like mountain climbers. Not only was it a danger to the inspectors, every hour of down time costs the plant over $1 million, according to Loosararian.
“While I was in college, I built this robot that ended up saving the plant three or four forced outages that year, saving the plant on the order of $10 million to $20 million. So I began thinking, well, this seems like something that maybe other power plants would find useful and decided to start the company. I bootstrapped the business by dumping my life savings into building this robot. By 2015, I was completely broke, down to my last hundred dollars, sleeping on the floor of my best friend’s apartment. And then all of a sudden I got this acquisition offer,” says Loosararian.
Despite his dire circumstances, he made the decision to turn down the acquisition in favor of another offer to enter into the Y Combinator program that provided his initial investment, enabling him to take his first salary. With Loosararian taking the role of CEO, he was able to bring aboard Troy Demmer as Chief Product Officer who shared his vision to build a company that would help solve our national infrastructure security problems.
“We have to solve two problems. We need to extend the useful life of the really old infrastructure and we also have to make those facilities produce 52x more than they already are producing. And the best way to do that is with data. We believe that the core part of the company is data. The company that will dictate the future standards will be the companies that can create their own data, and then build software infrastructure on top of that to understand how to build your algorithm to help make the most informed decisions,” says Loosararian.
While robots can collect data safely and efficiently, he needed to build a world class data team to turn the data into useful decisioning tools. His relationship with Palantir, the Peter Thiel founded big data firm, led to the hiring of many Palantir engineers with experience in big data and infrastructure projects.
Today, the Pittsburgh-based Gecko Robotics is growing fast working with companies in the Power, Oil & Gas, Pulp & Paper, Chemical and Government sectors. With its growth trajectory and immense upside, the company has attracted $122.3 million in funding to date with its most recent $73.3 million series C round in March of 2022 led by XN and Mark Cuban, and a valuation approaching $1 billion. Other investors include XYZ Venture Capital, Drive Capital, Founders Fund, Next 47, Soma Capital, Y Combinator and others.
Loosarian was born in Columbia, Maryland and grew up in the DC area. His father worked in a classified role for the government and was home schooled by his mother. “Funny that my co-founder was also homeschooled. So we created this need to learn for ourselves and also follow our curiosity. That kind of drove me more to engineering and allowed me the freedom to pursue things more deeply,” says Loosarian.
He moved to the UK with his family where he finished secondary school before returning the US to attend college at Grove City College for his degree in electrical engineering. While still in school he co-founded the Team GCC Scholarship Endowment in 2011 to bring diversity and student aid to Grove City College by bicycling across the country from Seattle to New York before starting Gecko Robotics in 2013.
As for the future? “Our mission is to protect infrastructure for a better tomorrow. Over the next 30 years, we have to make our infrastructure last way longer than it ever was supposed to. And we also have to make it produce way more than ever could before. Those are tough problems; like crazy, tough problems. And there are not many people focused on solving those problems. Without these industries, without solving the problems that we’re solving for these industries, civilization would come to a halt. I think people don’t realize how important the conversation is that we’re having,” concludes Loosararian.