Das Drainbot Team (c) DrainBot
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About Drainbot GmbH

  • Founders: Philipp Lepold and Dr. Slaven Stekovic MBA
  • Founded in: 2019
  • Employees: 5 to 10
  • Money raised: Pre-Seed, Seed by several investors Revenues: early revenues available
  • Ultimate goal: gain several international customers

When tunnel systems need to be maintained, the main issue is the tunnel drainage system, the so-called tunnel drainage. These are installed in the tunnel walls and are prone to clogging. To prevent clogging, the tunnel drainage systems must be regularly flushed with high-pressure cleaning systems. An unpleasant side effect: the tunnel has to be partially or completely closed during this time.

Philipp Lepold, the co-founder of DrainBot, knows the problem. He worked for more than 15 years in product development and customer support in the sewer cleaning and infrastructure maintenance industry. He used this experience to develop a robotic system that flushes tunnel drainage systems in a fully automated and environmentally friendly manner.

He enlisted a strong partner in molecular biologist Dr. Slaven Stekovic. Slaven is an award-winning scientist and serial entrepreneur with exit experience from the life science industry. In this episode of Start-up of the day, the founders talk about their innovation and the challenges of starting a business.

What problem are you solving and why is it important?

“Drainage maintenance in tunnels usually requires partial or complete infrastructure closure. Our intelligent and automated robotic system flushes the tunnel drains fully automatically and maintenance can be performed without closure times. In addition, DrainBot is more sustainable and 10 to 30 percent less expensive than traditional methods.

This is because tunnel drains are usually cleaned with so-called high-pressure water nozzles and about 400 liters of fresh water per minute. Our DrainBot uses only the existing service water from the drainage pipes. This brings cost savings and significantly improved climate protection values for the operators.

In addition, DrainBot completely eliminates the need for fossil fuels. The system is powered by electricity from a battery system built into the robot’s body.”

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome?

“Our goal was clear from the beginning: we wanted to develop more efficient, sustainable, and data-driven maintenance for tunnel drainage systems. Of course, there were some small obstacles along the way, but none of them made us even begin to doubt.”

Tunneldrainage, Tunnelwartung, Tunnelentwässerung, DrainBot
Automated and sustainable solution for tunnel drainage (c) DrainBot

What achievements have made you really proud?

“We received our first order from ASFINAG (Autobahnen- und Schnellstrassen-Finanzierungs-Aktiengesellschaft), the Austrian highway operator, just one year after we were founded. This was a great success, which we would not have expected at this early stage. The subsequent interest from North American tunnel operators also came as a surprise. This great market feedback confirms our approach and gives us a positive outlook for the future.”

How difficult was it to get funding?

“As Slaven has already supported several companies up to Series B, funding from institutional and private investors was very thoughtful in the first three years. Whereas we received funding from Austrian organizations (AWS, FFG, SFG) as well as from the European Commission. At the moment we are just starting talks with strategic investors with whom we want to achieve a better market positioning.”

Could you think of a better place for your start-up?

“There is no ideal place for a start-up. We have focused our company internationally from the beginning and Austria was simply our starting point. Whereas our team was remote-first even before the pandemic. We will continue to maintain this culture in order to create a pleasant place to work for everyone.”

Tunneldrainage, Tunnelentwässerung, Tunnelwartung, Drainbot,
Automated and sustainable solution for tunnel drainage (c) DrainBot

Where would you like to be with your company in five years?

“We operate in a niche market with very long sales cycles. However, customer relationships are much more stable than in other areas. In addition, our intelligent robot system for cleaning tunnel drains can be used in a variety of areas. This allows us to position it in several industries – such as road and rail operators, airports, and mining.

In five years, we want to have built a profitable company – and we want to do this by serving a wide range of international customers with our solution. Currently, we are scaling in Europe and North America.”

What makes your innovation better than existing solutions?

“One of our customers has called our robot the first innovation in this niche market in the last 25 years. That’s because there are many benefits that can be derived from automating tunnel drainage maintenance and making data-based decisions. As the initial studies show, our system is also much more sustainable than existing practices for cleaning tunnel drainage systems. Whereas the limit has not yet been reached. We are currently working on developing more USPs (Unique Selling Proposition) so that we constantly stay two steps ahead of the competition.”

Photo at top: The DrainBot Team VLNR: Sara Popovic, Philipp Lepold (CEO), Dr. Slaven Stekovic COO/CFO), Mario Tomicic