Dianna Liu is trying to make oil refineries safer. A former ExxonMobil engineer, she has first-hand experience with the dangerous conditions people face working in refineries, such as cracking and rusting pipes. Often times, workers put themselves in precarious positions to fix these problems.
"A lot of what I experienced I thought could be improved based on new technologies,” she said. “These companies were very much willing and eager to improve safety and use better technology, but I think there is a disconnect between the companies offering such technology and the people in the field and what they actually want to use.”
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In an effort to combat this issue, Liu formed ARIX Technologies, a tech startup working to create safe solutions for oil refineries. Right now, the company is working on two projects: a robot that crawls on pipes and conducts corrosion inspections and a software system that will help engineers make their refineries safer using data collected at the plants.
“A lot of tasks done in these refineries could be made safer. With robotics, you aren’t eliminating the person making decisions,” Liu said. “Instead, why not have them implement their expertise through a robot doing the dangerous portion of the task instead?”
Yet none of this work would have been possible without a little help.
After an article about ARIX appeared in the Yale alumni magazine--where Liu got her master’s degree in business--the company caught the eye of Michael Mahan, Managing Director at Stanley Ventures, the corporate venture arm of Stanley Black & Decker.
Unlike many other corporate venture funds, Stanley Ventures invests very early in a startup’s life cycle, focusing on companies in their Seed, Series A, or Series B stage.
“We aren’t afraid to go early,” said Mahan. “We also aren’t afraid to take a chance on innovation that we see as game-changing, even if that might be 18 to 36 months out.”
This is a defining characteristic of Stanley Ventures. By investing in startups that are just getting their feet off the ground, the venture fund has shown strong commitment to its portfolio companies and their innovative solutions.
We aren’t afraid to go early. We also aren’t afraid to take a chance on innovation that we see as game-changing, even if that might be 18 to 36 months out.
Stanley Ventures searches for startups that will fit into one of Stanley Black & Decker’s five business units: tools & storage, commercial security, engineered fastening, oil & gas, and hydraulics. Since beginning in 2016, Stanley Ventures has signed 20 deals and has no intention of slowing down. This past year alone, the venture arm brought eleven new startups into the fold.
“One of the things we do is take a hard look at the technology from an engineering, customer, and end-user perspective,” Mahan said. “We conduct a lot of voice-of-customer research and are able to provide companies with really valuable feedback.”
Additionally, startups are also given access to Stanley Black & Decker’s extensive network of industry professionals, which they can mine for information and advice. According to Liu, ARIX was immediately put in contact with expert connections the company didn’t necessarily have access to beforehand.
“I have many questions I don’t know the answer to,” she said. “Stanley has already introduced me to people and experts who can help answer those questions.”
Stanley Ventures also assists startups in fundraising. With Stanley as the lead investor, ARIX was able to fully subscribe their Seed round with multiple investors. This financial assistance not only allowed the ARIX team to pay their engineers fair wages but also empowered them to focus on innovation and product development.
By tapping into these early-stage companies, Stanley Black & Decker has brought a competitive edge to their product offerings and are quickly becoming one of the most innovative companies in the world. With that in mind, the tool manufacturing giant brings a swath of resources to the table that startups can immediately draw upon to spur further innovation. Yet, this isn’t a one-sided street. While Stanley Ventures is focused on helping smaller companies reach their potential, they are on the hunt for innovations that will ultimately expand the scope of the Stanley Black & Decker brand.
“We invest in startups when we believe there is potential they could provide a competitive advantage to Stanley as well as Stanley providing a competitive advantage to the startup,” Mahan said.
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Liu is grateful for the assistance provided by Stanley Ventures, as she can focus on her goal of making oil refineries safer.
“I really respect Stanley for assisting companies like us,” she said. “I’ve been associated with larger companies before and I can only imagine how hard this is to do.”
Mahan loves being able to help smaller, newer companies along on their journey. A veteran of the startup world, he understands the sheer amount of effort that goes into every single day of that life.
“Partnering a company like Stanley Black & Decker with the startup community creates an incredible opportunity for powerful innovation and true disruption,” he said.
In addition to Stanley Ventures, the company also sponsors the Stanley+Techstars Accelerator, which assists startups working to create innovative products in the additive manufacturing and eco-friendly packaging spaces. Stanley has been headquartered in New Britain, Connecticut for 175 years, and the accelerator is fittingly located right in their backyard in downtown Hartford.