Early last month, Raider Robotix received the unfortunate news that our primary corporate sponsor, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), would no longer be able to financially support FRC teams for the upcoming 2013-2014 FIRST season. Bristol-Myers Squibb has been a sponsor of Raider Robotix since the team’s fourth season in 2000. That year, the company’s generous support and talent allowed us to build our first national championship winning robot. Since then, BMS has aided us throughout the last 14 years, which has included 11 Regional wins, 5 Championship Division wins, and a World Championship title.
North Brunswick Township High School’s Raider Robotix team has conquered national and world championships, but it ends the school year with a challenge: seeking new sponsors.
Team 25 has started scouting businesses and organizations to fund it for the FIRST Robotics Competition’s 2014 build season. The registration fee alone costs the team about $6,000.
One of North Brunswick team’s major sponsors, Bristol-Myers Squibb, announced in a letter that it will be unable to sponsor it next season because of unforeseen budget cuts to its New Jersey Community Grants budget.
Raider Robotix, who won For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology’s world championship competition in 2012, was sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb for more than 15 years and has been mentored by Bristol-Myers Squibb employees.
The Bristol-Myers Squibb letter addresses only the budget for the following season, but there is no guarantee of whether the cuts are temporary.
Despite the budget cuts, Bristol-Myers Squibb employees will continue to mentor Team 25 members and its other sponsored teams.
The budget cut affects all of the robotics teams Bristol-Myers Squibb assisted, including those at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, Montgomery High School and Hopewell Valley Central High School, among others.
Changing sponsorships is not uncommon for robotics teams, but securing the funding is crucial for each team. The FIRST guide to creating a robotics team lists sponsorships as one of the key items needed for a new team. However, members said the process can be difficult, especially for such a large sum.
Teams have to build a new robot and training field each year, depending on the game FIRST creates for that season. The process can cost thousands of dollars. Raider Robotix is one of many teams that have had to recycle parts (or “cannibalize” the robots, as Team 25 members say).
Sarah Sleiman, who does public relations for the team, said she has spent the last couple of weeks researching grants and potential sponsors.
“It’s really hard,” said Sleiman, a sophomore. “I research what businesses and companies would fund education. (I) go online, hunt through the website, fill out a 10-page form, which is dreadful. Maybe they contact you two or three months later.”
Sleiman and other members raise funds for Raider Robotix locally. Sleiman said she visited more than 50 small businesses last year to seek donations for Team 25’s expenses and managed to get a handful to donate roughly $100 to $200 each.
Over the years, Team 25 has prepared to manage a tighter budget. They used to receive thousands of dollars more from sponsorships, which they would use to stock up on parts and other expenses, assistant coach Bob Goldman said.
North Brunswick has expanded its contributions to the robotics team. The school is opening a new machine shop next year, which will help the team produce its parts and build its robots and training fields more easily.
Since Raider Robotix launched in 1997, it has stood out as one of the top teams in the country. In 2000, the team won the national championship. Team 25 has won dozens of regional tournaments and won awards at the national and world competitions. The team won the world championship in St. Louis last spring.
North Brunswick celebrated the victory, holding a pep rally in honor of the members, head coach Wayne Cokeley said. At the pep rally, Cokeley told students about the team’s success and the impact of science and technology.
“Raider students drive nuclear submarines, design medical diagnostic equipment and work with NASA on the next Mars exploration robots,” he said at the pep rally. “Raider Robotix graduates are changing the world for all of us, and we have barely scratched the surface of the $15 million scholarship money that’s available to them.”
Members said that sponsorship is crucial to keep the team in FIRST. It is where many students get hands-on training in programming and other skills in science and technology, as well as access to scholarships.
Without Team 25, students said, they would lose access to science and technology training, as well as FIRST scholarships.
Senior Kevin Ramachandran, who heads the team’s scout crew, said he chose to pursue computer science in college because of robotics. He spends 45 hours a week on average doing scouting work during build season.
“When I came here, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Ramachandran said. “This made me know what I wanted to do.”
Despite concerns, members said they believe Team 25 will survive the funding issue. Students such as senior Kelly Petersen, a member of the scout crew, say that sustaining Raider Robotix helps the school’s reputation.
“We’re probably one of the biggest reasons why (North Brunswick is) known,” she said.
Since the article was published, Raider Robotix has received a $50 donation from Cornerstone Architectural Group. We thank them kindly for their assistance. Any amount of support will help us towards our fundraising goals.
If you or your company is interested in sponsoring Raider Robotix or learning more about what our program offers, feel free to contact head coach Wayne Cokeley directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can also be reached on the web via our official Facebook and Twitter pages.