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Autonomous Snowplow Inventor takes First Prize in Minneapolis Regional Chamber’s Young Entrepreneurs

MINNEAPOLIS – Winter haters take note: If someday an AI-enabled snowplow automatically clears your driveway while you sleep, you may have a local young entrepreneur to thank.

Max Minakov, a 16-year-old Andover High School student, earned first place in the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) 2021 competition. Hosted by the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, the academy is a 20- week program that helps middle and high school students to develop marketable ideas, conduct research, write business plans, obtain funding and then actually launch their own companies.

In all, the academy selects 12 students a year. Minakov won the regional YEA! competition for his invention of an autonomous snowplow – along with a business plan and investor presentation introducing his fledgling business, SnoTec.

Code-named Milo, Minakov’s invention is a snowplowing robot that wirelessly scans the internet for local weather reports. When notified that 1” or more of snow has fallen in the area, Milo automatically leaves its charging station to begin plowing. Invisible fencing technology tells Milo where to plow, while LiDAR sensors help Milo detect and avoid anything left in its path. When plowing is complete, Milo returns to its base to recharge and await the next snowfall alert.

“I hate snowplowing,” Minakov explained. “Having to repeatedly shovel the driveway after coming home from school or early in the morning was frustrating, so I tried finding a solution. Autonomous lawn mowers already exist, so I figured why not an autonomous snowplow?”

Minakov said it took about a month to generate his product idea. After that, he spent about six months researching robotics, motors, electricity and materials before building his first prototype. That robot could not even drive, but improvements over the next few months led to the functional prototype included in the YEA competition.

Unlike snowblowers that typically use an auger, Milo employs soft bristle brushes to sweep snow away – reducing the chances of injury or damage from an unintended encounter. Milo also has theft- prevention technology built in . . . alerting its owner by phone if it has been removed from its defined perimeter. GPS technology also allows owners to track Milo’s location.

Not bad for a first invention.

Minakov’s entrepreneurial leanings date back to running lemonade stands and other small businesses since he was four. Active in high school sports and outdoor activities, Minakov invented Milo, in part, to help make more time to pursue his other interests. Working as a restaurant host helped him to build speaking skills and confidence in customer interaction. But it was his passion for starting a small business that led to Milo and the YEA!.

Minakov says he started jotting down five product ideas per day on his mobile phone over a year ago. At the end of last summer, he had almost 100 product ideas – and decided to focus on the autonomous snowplow.

“The Young Entrepreneurs Academy really helped to accelerate the process,” said Minakov. “Presenting in front of an investor panel provides great experience, and winning the competition provides some credibility that this product is legitimate.”

YEA! also provided Minakov with a dedicated mentor to assist during the competition process. Marshall Jones is a retired executive and current volunteer with Minneapolis Business Mentors – a local non-profit that helps small businesses launch, grow and solve their challenges. Paired up via YEA!, Jones mentored Minakov on topics ranging from his business plan and investor pitches to manufacturing and financial issues.

“Max’s presentation is so professional that you would never know the person who developed it is 16,” said Jones. “I’ve mentored adults for years, but mentoring young people is invigorating, as they are curious, quick to learn and appreciative. Max asked the right questions and has developed a winning business plan.”

Jones also helped arrange a meeting with the research and development team of a major yard product manufacturer. Minakov presented his ideas and received feedback from experienced engineers. Going forward, additional collaboration is possible – and Minneapolis Business Mentors is available for ongoing support.

While not yet a finished product, Minakov expects that Milo test units will be available for trial within a few months. The next steps include filing for a patent and completing the software programming, which will require additional funding. Minakov plans to explore options ranging from crowd funding to seeking private equity investment.

“For me, the coolest part of business is creating your own product and then going out and selling it,” said Minakov. “The hardest part is just getting started. After I came up with the idea for Milo, I spent 2- 3 months just thinking about it. I knew that it would take a lot of money to build, and I just had to convince myself.”

Minakov credits encouragement and involvement from his parents, Alex and Vicki Minakov, for his progress, so far – including allowing him to invest his summer job savings into prototype development. “Running a business like this isn’t a one-man team,” he said. “My parents have really believed in the idea and supported me. I also had help from some of my friends. Everyone is excited and wants to know how soon they can have their own snowplow.”

In addition to launching his business, Minakov will start his senior year at Andover High School in August. He is also applying to colleges, where a strong entrepreneurial program will be a must.

His advice for other budding inventors and small business owners?


“Just get started,” says Minakov. “I had no engineering skills, robotic skills or any idea how a circuit worked before I started this. But no matter how hard bringing your idea to life might be, if you believe in it, it’s worth going after. The hardest part is just getting started.”


About Minneapolis Business Mentors Minneapolis Business Mentors is a non-profit volunteer organization that provides free resources to help small businesses to launch and to solve their challenges. Founded in 2020 by experienced business executives, the organization provides a wide range of mentoring, advice, workshops, peer networking and online resources. More information is available at www.MBMentors.org.

About SnoTec SnoTec is an early stage start-up aimed at creating autonomous residential snow-clearing devices. Based in Andover, Minnesota, SnoTec is currently engineering and prototyping “The Milo,” with beta testing expected in 4Q2021. SnoTec is actively soliciting investor funding. More information is available at www.snorobotics.com.

About Minneapolis Regional Chamber The Minneapolis Regional Chamber is the largest and most diverse local business association in the MSP region. Founded in 1881, the Chamber today includes more than 2,300 member organizations throughout the 11-county metro area. More information is available at www.mplschamber.com and at www.mplschamber.com/yea/.

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