How She Does It: Marita Cheng, Founder of 2Mar Robotics and Robogals Global

Marita Cheng was the 2012 Young Australian of the Year. Marita received the award for demonstrating vision and leadership well beyond her years as the Founder and Executive Director of Robogals Global.

Noticing the lack of girls in her engineering classes at the University of Melbourne, Marita rounded up her fellow engineering peers and they went to schools to teach girls robotics, as a way to encourage girls in pursuing a career in engineering. In just five years, Robogals has grown to 22 locations in six countries around the world, and taught over 20,000 girls robotics. The group runs robotics workshops, career talks and various other community activities to introduce young women to engineering.

In 2013, Marita founded 2Mar Robotics, which is focused on building beautiful robots that help us in our everyday lives. Based in Melbourne, Australia, the company aims to make robots accessible to everyone.

Marita was born in Cairns, Queensland, Australia. She grew up in housing commission with her brother and single-parent mother, who worked as a hotel room cleaner. She graduated from high school in 2006 in the top 0.2% of the nation. That same year Marita was awarded Cairns Young Citizen of the Year for her volunteering and extra-curricular efforts, which included winning awards for mathematics, Japanese and piano. Marita speaks English, Cantonese and Japanese.

Marita has a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronics) / Bachelor of Computer Science from the University of Melbourne.

Deb: Hi Marita! Thanks for joining us on the Secrets of Success blog. So, how did you get started as an entrepreneur?

Marita: Glad to be here. My journey started from growing up with nothing. I grew up in a housing commission, where mum earned about $20,000 a year as a hotel room cleaner to support herself, my brother and me. By living very frugally and only spending money on things that were investments into our future, my mum was able to provide my brother and I with an education so we could go to university.

When I began my journey to becoming an entrepreneur, my upbringing really helped shape me because I already knew what the worst could look like and this made it possible for me to take risks and reach for the stars.

My first company was Nudge. It was a reminder service for patients taking prescription medication. Back then I didn't really know what I was doing, but it gave me the experience I needed to build a business. I started with a small vision and executed on that. From there I learnt the skills to be able to expand my vision into something bigger every time. Before I knew it, I had a growing small enterprise!

Deb: Are there any "lessons learned" that you'd like to share?

Marita: I think the number one lesson is to just keep going. If something's not working, adjust until it does. Recognise that "failures" are just lessons you had to learn and don't give up.

Just like everyone else, I'm terrified of failures but I will always make an effort to do things that scare me. I hold myself accountable if things don't work, I reflect on why things went wrong and find another way to succeed.

I love success, but I also appreciate the rewards found in failure.

Deb: Who are your ideal clients?

I started up 2Mar Robotics last year so I can build robotic arms to help make a difference to people in their everyday lives, such as those with a disability or limited upper mobility. Making a positive impact is something I take seriously and therefore my ideal clients are those who need support and benefit from having a robotic arm lift things up for them and manipulate the environment around them.

The robotic arm can be mounted on a wheelchair, table or bench so the user can control the arm using an iPhone or iPad to move and grip objects and can save common tasks to be easily repeated again later.

When I was a kid begrudgingly doing the household chores, I dreamed of the day when a robot could do all the chores for me. When I realised there was no robots of this description around me, I decided I needed to be the one to make it happen and every day I get a step closer to turning this dream into a reality. The project is currently in development and we're expecting to bring it to market by the end of the year.

Deb: What are some of your successes and challenges?

Marita: One of my everyday successes is being able to juggle my life so that I have time to think creatively about the big picture even while I continue to execute my day-to-day vision. It's such a luxury to have the time, space and mindset to just reflect on things.

Also I'm extremely proud of my success on Robogals where I was recognised as Young Australian of the Year in 2012.  I founded Robogals to inspire female participation in engineering, science and technology through fun and educational initiatives aimed at girls in primary and secondary school. The Robogals project has attracted growing numbers of student volunteers and is continuing to expand internationally. Robogals is changing the mindsets of girls so they can believe in themselves and be inspired to do awesome work such as creating amazing buildings and bridges, plus fantastic innovations.

I like to challenge myself to do new things all the time, which is a challenge in itself! So I spend a lot of time reading and fully engrossing myself in a topic in order to fully understand things when I'm working on a new project.

An exciting challenge I'm currently involved in is the Optus Yes! Project.

As an advocator of the Optus Yes! Project I'm calling on Australians to 'live more yes' in their lives by sharing their thoughts, photos or videos on social media with the hashtag #YES and Optus will make the most interesting, useful, funny or awesome ideas happen. I like challenging and engaging young Aussies to do fun and creative things and I'm excited to see their awesome ideas brought to life.

Deb: That's terrific. So, going forward, what's your vision for your business at 2Mar Robotics?

In the short term, my vision is to create an amazing robotic arm for people with limited upper limb mobility. 

In the long term, my vision is to create robots that are a part of our everyday lives in all different roles.

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