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Q&A: Houston robotics entrepreneur on IPO, military innovation, and more

Houston-based Nauticus Robotics founder, Nicolaus Radford, shares the latest from his company. Image via LinkedIn

Almost a decade ago, Nicolaus Radford founded a robotics company that automated underwater operations for heavy industry customers. Now, the company provides its robotics-as-a-service business to customers across industry, providing key analytics, risk-managed monitoring, and emission-reducing service.

Nauticus Robotics (Nasdaq: KITT) went public via SPAC last year, and Radford, CEO and founder, sat down with InnovationMap earlier this year to share the unique challenges he faced with the IPO, the company's partnerships with the United States Marine Corps, and more. Check out the shortened Q&A below and head to InnovationMap for the full conversation.

InnovationMap: Tell me about life after IPO. What’s been surprising for you leading your company through the transition and now on the other side of IPO?

Nicolaus Radford: I'll tell you what, it’s the hardest thing I ever did in my professional career by a factor of 10. It was a very exceptionally challenging period of time. It took a long to complete the transaction, and the market was just changing under our feet. Rules were and regulations were changing — were we grandfathered in or were we not?

I'm part of some business organizations and, and some of those confidential relationships have turned into friendships. And a couple of them call me and they're like, “we're really worried. We think this is going to be we don't know if you're going to get it done. And we just want you to be aware that you're not you may not get it done.” It is a little scary because once you engage in it, you're running quite a tab with bankers and law firms and all sorts of things. And if you don't complete the deal, it just might kill the company.

But we did it. We were one of a few people last year to actually get a deal over the line. I'm very proud of that. I think it speaks to the quality of the deal that we had. The macro economic environment was exceptionally difficult. It remains to be very difficult today. But we had strong backing from our strategic investors and our partners that were already on the cap table. They put a tremendous amount of money into the deal.

You know, I look back on it and it's, you know, ringing the Nasdaq bell when we listed, and giving that speech at the podium — it was a surreal moment. I remember when I was standing there looking at the Nauticus logo on the seven-story Nasdaq tower, having as many people in the company as we could bring, and just sharing that moment with all of them.

I was excited but cautious at the same time. I mean, the life of a CEO of a public company at large, it's all about the process following a process, the regulations, the administration of the public company, the filings, the reportings — it can feel daunting. I have to rise to the occasion to tackle that in this the next stage of the company.

IM: You’re working with the military on a project that adapts Nauticus tech for Marine Corps use. What’s it been like working with the military on this project?

NR: We've probably worked with military interests for the last six years, but all of the things that we have been doing have been extremely confidential and hush. Now we've been able to work with customers that have a stronger public facing persona, and the Defense Innovation Unit is one of those.

Their charter is it's quite literally looking for commercial technology and adapting that towards military applications, and so it's been nice to be able to show the utility and the application of of a lot of our technology and what we've been working on for so long as it's applied on a broader scale to the big services, whether it's the Navy or the Marine Corps.

Both of the programs we’re working on are all about mine countermeasures, and mines are really, really difficult, especially underwater mines. We've been we've been applying all of Nauticus’s broad technology portfolio to being able to search autonomously and being able to identify and neutralize threats in the water. I love that mission because anytime we can remove our service men and women from these situations, that's just the right thing to do.

IM: What’s next for Nauticus?

NR: What’s next is tough to talk about, because I can only talk about what’s already been published. I see Nauticus being the preeminent ocean robotics company. I want Nauticus to be an empire. It starts small but it grows — and it grows in many different ways, and we’re exploring all of those different ways to grow. We’re leading a technology renaissance in the marine space — and that happens only a few times in an industry.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity. This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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A View From HETI

The pilot project is a cornerstone of an extended agreement between ExxonMobil Technology and Engineering and Danbury, Connecticut-based clean energy company FuelCell Energy. Photo via exxonmobil.be

The Esso fuel business of Spring-based ExxonMobil is forging ahead with a pilot project at its Dutch refinery in Rotterdam to test technology aimed at reducing carbon emissions and simultaneously generating electricity and hydrogen.

The pilot project is a cornerstone of an extended agreement between ExxonMobil Technology and Engineering and Danbury, Connecticut-based clean energy company FuelCell Energy. The deal is now set to expire at the end of 2026.

ExxonMobil and FuelCell announced the pilot project in 2023.

“The unique advantage of this technology is that it not only captures CO2 but also produces low-carbon power, heat, and hydrogen as co-products,” Geoff Richardson, senior vice president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, said last year.

The Rotterdam facility, which opened in 1960, will be the first location in the world to test the technology. The technology eventually could be rolled out at additional ExxonMobil sites.

The European Union is among the funders of the pilot project. FuelCell is making carbonate fuel cells for the project at its manufacturing plant in Torrington, Connecticut.

The extended agreement enables FuelCell to incorporate elements of the jointly developed technology into carbon capture products currently being marketed to customers. ExxonMobil and FuelCell are working on formalizing an arrangement for selling the new technology.

“The technology, which captures carbon while simultaneously generating electricity and hydrogen, could improve the economics of carbon capture and could potentially lower the barrier to broader adoption of carbon capture in the marketplace,” according to a FuelCell news release.

FuelCell says its 10-year partnership with ExxonMobil has focused on developing technology that reduces carbon emissions from emission-intensive sectors while generating electricity and hydrogen in the process — “something that no other fuel cell technology or conventional absorption systems can do.”

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