Startup Success: How Web Summit helped Cognivix break new markets

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Matthew Taylor
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In our series exploring successful startup stories at our events, we sat down with Cognivix founder and CEO, Daniele Bernardini.

Founded in 2021, Cognivix is an AI and machine vision startup working with robotics in the manufacturing industry. Founder Daniele Bernardini has had a varied career as an academic, consultant and founder of multiple startups.

A five-time veteran of Web Summit and Collision, Daniele values the events not only for the valuable business connections he has made but also for the opportunity to meet and share with fellow founders.

At Web Summit 2023, we sat down with Daniele to talk about Cognivix, his experience at our events, and some of the valuable contacts he has made over the years.

Can you tell me a bit about your background?

A very long time ago, I was a physicist. And then in around 2000, I moved to business consulting on software. In 2004, I founded and sold my first company. Then, I founded and ran my own software consultancy for around 15 years.

Within that second company, I started to research machine learning in collaboration with some universities and some other companies. This got me out of the business consulting world, and into the product world, and that’s where I am now with Cognivix.

How did you come to found Cognivix, and what does the company do?

In 2019 I was invited to talk in San Francisco by the Bayern Ministry of Economy, which organises these trade trips. There, I met somebody from a large corporation who was interested in what we were doing with computer vision.

We then had a stand at EMO (Exposition Mondiale de la Machine-Outil) in 2019, and that’s where the idea to apply machine vision to robots came from, which was the beginning of Cognivix.

In essence, the company uses AI machine vision to improve robotic manipulation in manufacturing.

Since then, we’ve been working on research and development in collaboration with the Technical University of Munich, where I’m also a full-time researcher. [The company] incorporated in 2021, once we were sure that the idea was solid.

We raised funds – with a pre-seed of around €950,000 – through a mix of grants, loans, and private investments. It’s very, very hard for deep tech companies to raise private investments, but right now we’re raising a second round with the lead investor from our pre-seed.

Lukas Dirnberger (left) and Daniele Bernardini (right) of Cognivix at the company’s stand at Web Summit 2023. Image: Cognivix

How did you first learn about Web Summit, and when did you first attend?

So 2023 is my fifth Web Summit event. My first was actually at Collision in 2015, as a general attendee. And then I went to the first Web Summit in Lisbon in 2016 with my previous company.

We had built a medical information system for one of the top 20 pharmaceutical firms in the world, and we wanted to bring this product to market. But we found that there wasn’t much venture capital interest, as pharmaceuticals are a pretty hard sell. We gave up on that idea, and then a few years later we came up with the robotics idea and we invested all our energy into that.

I also attended in 2017. And then in 2022 and 2023, I attended Web Summit with Cognivix.

So you’ve been to lots of our events, are there any connections you made that were particularly useful?

One of the main connections that was really helpful was JETRO, the Japanese External Trade Organisation. That was at one of my first Web Summits, when I was still new to the event.

I went to them and said, “I like Japan, I want to collaborate with you guys – let’s do something”. And they actually followed up!

They invited me to talk to them in Germany, where I was based at the time. Then in 2019, they invited me to go to Japan with four other startups from around the world to give a talk on AI.

[Cognivix] had the opportunity to meet with the Toyota Group, Denso and a lot of the top companies in and around the Nagoya area. Nagoya is Japan’s manufacturing hub – roughly 40 to 45 percent of Japan’s manufacturing happens there – and obviously, Japan is one of the world’s largest manufacturing centres. It’s a really, really important market for us.

So that was a very important contact made at Web Summit, and in fact, we’re still in contact. Two weeks after Web Summit 2023 we’re attendees at iREX – the robotics trade fair in Tokyo – and then after that, we’re invited to this matchmaking trade fair, which is a big thing they do in Japan to connect startups with major companies.

And so all of this connection with Japan, which for us is the most strategic market, came from that connection made at Web Summit. It’s one of our most important contacts overall.

Have you made many connections at Web Summit in 2023?

Absolutely. So we were at a small cocktail party with the city government of Montreal. We were actually contacted by their Italian representative, that is to say, the representative of the government of Montreal in Italy. And we met in person at Web Summit, and they invited us to the party.

But this might prove hugely relevant for us because, as explained to us, Montreal and Quebec – and Canada in general – have huge issues with efficiency in production. And since we’re doing automation solutions for the manufacturing industry, that would actually be quite a welcome sight, for us to be there and to help the local companies automate their processes.

So we are having a follow-up in January, and we’ll see what course this takes.

Do you have any advice for fellow founders at Web Summit?

Well, it’s something that I advise myself to do every year – and that I fail to do every year – is that you should start preparing three months in advance.

You should start contacting people, checking who is going to be there; who is in the same area as you. What investors do you want to talk to? Research the investors.

But the point is that nobody has the time to do this, between meetings with customers, developing your product, and so on. But really, preparation is the best investment of your time, because once you’re here, it’s too late.

So go on the Web Summit app, find people, make notes, and it will be so much more useful.

Would you recommend Web Summit to other founders?

I’ve been here five times, I think it’s an obvious answer.

So there’s a couple of reasons. Maybe the obvious one is that you’re making connections, finding investors, and basically, promoting your business to investors, as well as to potential partners or clients, or other startups that might actually help you along.

But there is a deeper reason. It’s that you want to be in contact with people who have the same struggles as you.

At trade fairs like Automatica, EMO or iREX, you’ll find corporate, you’ll find salespeople, and you’ll find completely different people outside what you are trying to achieve.

But at Web Summit, for example, the guy at the stand next to mine this year, we met before – last year and this year at (Web Summit side-event) the Gathering.

And we can talk about our experiences over the course of the year, [we can] say “what happened to you in the last year” and compare, and it makes you feel less stupid. And it’s just as simple as that. You feel like maybe you’re not doing everything wrong.

The rest of the year, you meet with people who maybe have a more corporate career and they say, “why are you doing what you’re doing?” or “you’re failing,” But here you meet other people like you and you see it’s not true.

They have the same struggles, they can relate to what you do, and actually, it gives you the strength to keep going, to go home and to keep building your product. That’s why I like this place.Main image of Cognivix logo: Cognivix

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