By @SimonCocking

Interview with Niall McCormick @colmacrobotics an Irish Ed-Tech startup. Inspiring the young people of today to design the world of tomorrow.

What does your company do?

Colmac Robotics Ltd. is an award-winning Irish Edtech company in the field of robotics education. The company was founded in 2013 by myself and my co-founder Colmán Munnelly.

Our vision is to “inspire the young people of today to create the world of tomorrow”

Our robotics workshops provide the perfect environment for young people to be creative, innovative and inspired, while learning important skills in the areas of science, technology, engineering, mathematics,(STEM) design and computer programming. These skills will be essential in the Smart Economy that we now find ourselves in. Our robotic products are designed as both learning aids for teachers and educational toys. They offer a unique way to enrich technology programs in schools as well as fostering creativity and digital learning outside of the school environment.

How was 2014, what went well?

2014 went very well for us. As I have only recently finished studying engineering in University, it was still a part-time venture in 2014. Even still, we recorded a 300% increase in numbers and turnover from 2013 so we were very happy. We wanted to introduce a new camp for older children but we encountered a lot of problems logistically with this. Instead we turned it into a product for schools including, robotics kit and resources. We trialled this and it was very successful so we hope to expand this from Sept. 2015.

Anything you’d do differently?

There are a few things I would do differently if given the chance again but it was a tough balancing act to finish my degree and run the business with Colman at the same time. There are a few areas that we would like to improve on but nothing critical. Overall, 2014 was a good year for team Colmac!

Plans for 2015 and the future?

This is the first year that the company will be a full-time venture so the main goal for the moment is to build it up to a point where it is enjoying stable growth year-round and not just during our busy summer season. We have entered the IBYE competition again this year, having gotten through to the county finals last year. The prize on offer is a €20,000 investment which would allow us to expand our operations and explore new growth areas in more detail. We are also very heavily involved with digital education initiatives, such as EXCITED, and domestic and international robotics competitions. Each of these are growing rapidly so we are really excited to see what the 2015/16 season brings!

What’s your background, what lead you into what you are now doing?

I suppose the story starts during our Transition Year in 2008, myself and Colmán were members of a team of five students from St. Gerald’s College in Castlebar that represented Ireland and the UK in the international FIRST LEGO League robotics competition. We were very lucky that we attended a school that was very forward thinking when it came to technology and ICT in education. I then went on to study Electrical & Electronic Engineering in NUI Galway and Colman studied Materials and Engineering Technology in Education in UL. In 2012 we were invited back to be judges for the Irish leg of the competition and decided to put our engineering and teaching skills to some use during our summer holidays. We started Colmac Robotics on a shoe-string budget of just €1000 and have built it up from a seasonal venture with just ourselves to a full-time company that employs 10 seasonal employees. We’re now focusing on expanding our work around the whole year. I have now graduated so this is my full-time job. All that we have achieved to date has been while working part-time, I’m excited to see what we can achieve now that we are focusing on it 100%.

What were your highlights from Excited?

EXCITED was fantastic, it’s actually hard to pick out highlights from it. I really enjoyed the few days and it was great to see the really positive changes that have happened in the last year since EXCITED was founded. I have worked closely with the team behind it on a few ideas and they are truly a remarkable group of people. I was also very impressed with the representatives from the Digital Youth Council of Ireland, a group of young people that are fantastic ambassadors for Ireland. In some ways it’s amazing to think that it has taken this long for someone in education to ask the question “What do students think?”. If we were to run our business like that and not ask our main customers about the service they received we wouldn’t be in business very long!

What tech would you like to see being used to help with education?

I think it’s very important to distinguish between using specific tech in education and using tech in general to help young people’s understanding of the world. There is no point in replacing all books with iPads if it is solely used to store pdf versions of the same textbook. While this will save their back from the weight of traditional school books, it does nothing to improve or expand their understanding of the coursework. It is the equivalent of giving me a Ferrari but not letting me drive it above 10km/h. We need to let young people utilise the full potential of technology already available to them. Each of them have a computer in their pocket many times more powerful than the ones used to control NASA rockets that went into orbit and landed on the Moon. They have access to practically unlimited information by way of arguably the greatest invention ever – the Internet. If we want to truly revolutionise education in Ireland, we have to embrace digital, but in the right way.

Anything else to add / we should have asked you?

If you want to contact me, you can get me details here. Feel free to contact me at any stage!

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