Founder Friday: Thiru Vikram, Buffalo Automation

A winner of the UB Panasci competition. A member of both the Launch NY and Z80 Labs portfolios. And most recently, a recipient of seed funding led by the Jacobs Family (of Delaware North).

Buffalo Automation has had several big wins in the WNY community since its founding in 2015. And with self-driving technology becoming an area of focus for automakers, it’s inevitable that we will soon see this technology widely implemented in the maritime industry. Self-navigating boats can improve safety on the water and identify more energy-efficient routes, saving money on fuel and lowering emissions.

Learn more about founder Thiru Vikram and why headquartering in Buffalo was the best move for his startup in today’s Founder Friday!

How did your startup, well, start up?

We started as a student research project at UB. We built our first prototype catamaran in the backyard of the Theta Tau house…

What do you do? Your startup?

We develop AI-based systems that enable boats and ships to navigate autonomously.

When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup when you realized this could actually work?

When we got significant interest from local lake freighter companies to do pilot projects with us.

What has been the biggest accomplishment for your startup to-date?

We have launched our world-class product, AutoMate, which is now starting to bring in significant revenue from both North America and Europe.

Goals for the next year? Three years?

Launch our Level 4 autonomy product, Pegasus, in the recreational boating market. It’s too hard to say what will be happen in 3 years, but we believe that we will have expanded into other markets outside maritime by then.

Why Buffalo?

The founding team attended UB and that was where the company was born.

At Buffalo Automation, we pride ourselves to be the ultimate long-term thinkers, and have thought about our location plans very carefully and in great detail. We believe that Buffalo will once again be a major economic center in a few decades, and that it’s imperative for the company to remain headquartered here due to the following factors that also influence one another to create a positive synergy for the entire region:

  1. Affordable cost of living that is likely to remain so in the intermediate-term.
  2. Great access to partners with Great Lakes maritime companies and test prototypes.
  3. Close proximity to talent pools and universities in New York and Ontario.
  4. Great infrastructure that was originally created to support much larger economic activity; the thruways here hardly ever become parking lots and we have such beautiful parks in every neighborhood.
  5. Close proximity to the Canadian border, which allows us to relocate our staff if unmitigable work-visa related challenges ever arise for any of our diverse and talented teammates.
  6. Access to abundant freshwater, which is likely to become a major issue in a few decades as the world population continues to grow, and climate change-related events disrupt current precipitation patterns and dislocate existing reliable freshwater supply across the world.
  7. Relative immunity to the increasingly adverse effects of climate change, such as hurricanes, forest fires, and sea-level rise. Buffalo is also likely to be a safe haven from the climate change-induced northward migration of pathogen-carrying organisms and pests that typically thrive in warmer regions, such as mosquitos, that could strain health, quality of life, and agricultural yields. This will encourage more smart and talented people to move here as the years pass.
It would indeed be very interesting to see the effectiveness of our location planning process, with the benefit of hindsight, in 2050.

How do you do it? What drives you?

Intellectual curiosity and the satisfaction one gets from building something significant from the ground up.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Never give in, period.