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Updated: February 19, 2024 Shop Talk

Q&A: Worcester tech entrepreneur aims to put software on the moon

A man wearing a pink shirt and jeans sits on a white couch in front of a yellow wall with the Geisel Software logo on it. Photo | Courtesy of Geisel Software Brian Geisel, CEO of Geisel Software

Geisel Software doesn’t require employees to have a college degree. While many of Brian Geisel’s employees no doubt studied computer science and earned degrees, not having one is not a deal breaker. College should be the path if it's the one that best serves your learning, Geisel said. Geisel himself went the Steve Jobs route and dropped out of college after a year to write software, and it’s rarely been a problem. His philosophy is to hire talented people who can write innovative code in the artificial-intelligence and machine-learning realms.

A bio box on Brian Geisel
Brian Geisel bio box

Founded in 2011, Geisel’s company is on track to grow 10-fold in the next five years, he said. Located in the Worcester Business Center near the intersection of I-290 and I-190, there’s plenty of room to expand.

How did automation software become your forte?

When I learned about software from a teacher, I thought, “If I could just make the whole world listen to a computer, I could automate everything. I could be infinitely lazy.” A lot of the software we write at Geisel is in robotics and automation. That lets software touch the world, whether it is automation software or some kind of friendly conversational robot that keeps you company and reads your kids stories. We do a lot of medical devices and a lot of connected devices, interacting with the world around us.

Working with NASA is pretty impressive. How did you get there?

I remember at a company meeting, I said we’d put software on the moon. Everybody cheered because they thought I had a plan. Then there was a request for proposals from NASA to land a robotic system on the moon. One of my RFP guys said “You can’t do that; it’s already Lockheed or Space X or someone.”

I went to a conference at NASA, they had small businesses at tables, and people would come around and meet you. At the end, there was a guy cleaning up from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I started talking to him, and it turned out he was one of the top guys at JPL. We built a relationship, and he taught us about us interfacing with NASA. Before we knew it, we’d won a couple of contracts from NASA.

In 2023, we wrote some software – all automated – to get samples from Mars back to Earth. It’s a huge NASA program happening within the next 10 years. We have another contract for ground-penetrating radar on the surface of the moon. So we will, in fact, have software we wrote on the moon.

What other ventures are you proud of?

We do high-speed warehouse robotics, which is some really cool work. We are doing a lot of computer vision stuff. Say you’re on the website shopping and you click “Buy,” a robot is on its way to go get the product on the shelf. It’s going to a bin, then a truck, and that will be scheduled to eventually get to your house. The industry in general has gotten to overnight delivery status, and a lot of that is because of how much the warehouse has been automated.

We’ve also done things like automation for class-three medical devices, such as a device in your heart. In that particular case, it’s a device that, prior to it, those people wouldn’t survive. As fun and cool as the warehouse stuff and the NASA stuff is, it’s cool to be doing stuff saving lives.

How would you describe your growth as a company?

It kind of took off in 2018. We made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in the U.S. the last two years. We’ve hired a new chief of staff, Kevin Schwartz. He’s been in a lot of high-growth companies and has been through the process of seeing around the corners.

Five years ago we probably had four employees, and five years from now we’ll probably have 500 or 1,000. People used to ask me how big I wanted the company to get. I wondered, “Why is there a limit?”

Does your software replace humans in a bad way?

Robotics took off during the COVID pandemic because we had so much more to automate and we had fewer people working. Automation just exploded, and as we came out of it a year or two later, we had 800,000 warehouse jobs open in the U.S. Those warehouse jobs are probably more interesting than the 500,000 that were open before the pandemic.

We free the person up to do something requiring more creativity and expertise. That’s not what robots are good at. We all need purpose. Picking a thing up and putting it down all day is a job, but not a purpose.

Why is Worcester the right city for you to grow in?

We’re both catching a wave. Everyone is collaborative and excited about what they’re doing. I just spoke on an AI and ML panel with the Venture Forum hosted by Worcester Polytechnic Institute. So many people came back to me afterward with so many interesting ideas.

We’ve got so many great universities, and we’re churning out so many great students. We’re starting to get some great companies in the city. We’re hoping as the ecosystem in Worcester grows, and there are more and more companies we can help with software, too.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Correspondent Emily Micucci.

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