Business

KC Geekpreneurs Use Nerdbots to Turn an Interest into a Flourishing Career

On any given weekend, you’ll likely find Nicholas and Angie Snyder exploring antique stores, scrapyards, estate sales and flea markets—essentially, anywhere where they “can find a lot of really good junk,” Angie says.

Before you call a hoarders hotline, rest assured that the duo are on a mission to turn these now-forgotten treasures into something even better: robots.

Nicholas and Angie didn’t immediately realize that they shared a love of robots—after all, as Nicholas says, it’s not a typical topic of conversation.

“We met back in college in 2002 and, a couple of years later, got married,” he says. “We didn’t realize we both loved robots until about 2007. I don’t think we were ashamed of it; it just never really came up in general conversation.”

Interested in indulging your nerd pride with some Nerdbots merchandise? Nicolas and Angie are your local hookups.

Once this nerdy skeleton burst out of the closet, Nicholas and Angie realized they wanted to do more than simply talk about and appreciate robots: they wanted to create them. They founded their delightfully geeky company, Nerdbots, and embarked on a mission to create their first robot, a graphing calculator-obsessed fellow named Leotron.

Because Nicholas and Angie are never sure what sort of parts and pieces they’ll find, Nicholas says the parts usually dictate what sort of robots they build. Occasionally, however, they’ll find themselves in need of a specific part—an arm, for example. In that instance, they might head somewhere like Home Depot, where they tend to attract interest from fellow shoppers.

“We’ll take an armless and legless torso into Home Depot and people give us the strangest looks,” Nicholas says. “People will ask us, ‘What are you looking for?’ We’re just looking! I guess not many people go to the pipe aisle just to browse.”

Completing a robot’s construction doesn’t mean it is finished. After a robot is created, the Snyders give it a name and quirky bio that they write based on observations and ideas that Angie diligently collects.

“I keep a little notebook in my bag, so every time we think of something that we find kind of nerdy, we jot it down,” she says. “When it’s time to write a bio, I have all of these great ideas and interests that the robots can have.”

The scholarly Dremel, for example, is enamored with chemical physics and evolutionary biology. Sassy Wilma Wilson loves to make PowerPoint presentations about nuclear magnetic resonance and chemical bonds that she shares with her friends. And the jaunty Admiral is drinking protein shakes in an effort to bulk up so that he can achieve his dream: attending a prom.

As for the original Nerdbot, Leotron, well, he’s “always been rather partial to lists, spreadsheets, diagrams and charts,” according to his bio. “His favorite possession is his graphing calculator, which he’s proud to say he can run even with his eye closed. He’s an avid comic book collector and drinks Starbucks lattes in order to stay awake during his late-night science experiment marathons.”

In an effort to share their nerdy pride with as many people as possible, Nicholas and Angie have created additional merch, including T-shirts, stickers and, most recently, the ultimate in geek chic: leather pocket protectors that they debuted in June at Kansas City’s Maker Faire.

More merchandise—and, of course, more robots—are in the works. Although Nerdbots currently remains a passion project for Nicholas (a team lead at Cerner) and Angie (a graphic designer at Hallmark), the two hope to one day make a full-time career out of Nerdbots.

Until then, Nicholas and Angie won’t stop spending their free time creating robots or scouting potential parts—unless, of course, they’re indulging another geeky passion.

“We go to the library a lot, and we actually check out books and bring them home,” Nicholas says. “The speed reader that is my wife goes through all of hers plus mine in a week or two.”

Adds Angie, “We also watch a lot of documentaries, especially anything about space. I guess we’re a good fit—we have quite a nerdy resume.”