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Meet Greg Gilla of RobotCity Workshop

Today we’d like to introduce you to Greg Gilla.

Greg, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I opened the shop as an electronics supply house geared towards robot hobbyists. I sold specialized electronic components and advanced robot building kits. With the store decorated the way it was with lots of vintage robots from the 80s and wall to wall outer space murals,we quickly found our true audience after local kids would beg their moms to look inside the store.

We then started stocking robot kits for school aged children. This led us to offering in-store workshops to show them how to build robots from the kits that we were selling. Inevitably, this led us to coming directly to their schools, providing after school programs which is our main business now. Along the way, we added other services including robot birthday parties, electronics workshops and programming classes, and seasonal camps.

At one point, the parents were asking why their kids got to have all the fun so RobotDate Nite was created. Participants build robots just like their children, but in a BYOB, after hours environment with a movie, trivia games and a popcorn serving robot!

We continue today with our workshops and programs, expanding further into the suburbs of Chicago and beyond. RobotCity West was started last year by my sister, Gail and she is quickly growing into her area in and around San Diego.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
For us, the main challenge has always been with the sheer logistics of providing 30+ programs on a constant basis. All of the schools let the children out at around the same time, so we must maintain a small army of instructors to be onsite at the schools at multiple locations across the city, keeping up with snow days and holidays.

The students also build their robots over a span of six weeks or more, so it is important that they are all completing their projects on time before the next one begins. Inventory is also particularly challenging due to constant changes to the school rosters and other variables.

Please tell us about RobotCity Workshop.
RobotCity Workshop is an educational science shop with an emphasis on robots. We are known for our many services: After School Programs, Birthday Parties, In-Store Workshops, Seasonal Camps and specialized events–all revolving around science and technology and robots!.

We are particularly proud of our afterschool programs and the positive effect it has on the students’ confidence. Unlike other children’s’ tech programs and camps that primarily teach programming, we feel that our more hands-on approach is superior. Teaching children basic electric and mechanical fundamentals and real-world skill sets such as learning how to use a screwdriver, or putting in batteries is what sets us apart.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Going to see Star Wars about twenty times at the theatre back in 1977–couldn’t get enough of it! That movie was a game changer back then. The effects were way ahead of their time and I think C3P0 and R2D2 had a definite impact on my preoccupation with robots.

There was also this crazy place called Tommy Bartlett’s Robot World up in Wisconsin that had this super tacky, robot fun house. They had all these cheap Disney-like animatronic robots in different psychedelic dioramas with lasers and sound effects foretelling the future and other ridiculousness. It was pretty unbelievable!

Looking back now, I regard both of these as the inspiration for RobotCity Workshop and the various robots I have built, repaired or collected over the years…

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