Student entrepreneur invents ‘Roomba for snow’

Max Minakov adjusts his snow robot outdoors in the snow

In sixth grade, Carlson School sophomore Max Minakov was tasked with digging out his parents’ driveway one shovel-full at a time.

“I really, really hated shoveling snow,” says Minakov. “As a kid, you’re either doing it after school or you’re getting up at 5 a.m. to do it, which I had a hard time doing. I knew there had to be something easier.”

Minakov has taken that idea and run with it since then. He is now the founder of Nivoso, a self-activating snow-clearing robot for driveways and sidewalks. The robot is completely autonomous and keeps surfaces safe and accessible 24/7 without human intervention. It’s a “Roomba for snow,” says Minakov.

The idea is being noticed throughout the state of Minnesota, and not just during winter. Nivoso was the winner of the student division in the 2023 MN Cup this fall, earning $26,000 in seed money from the startup competition. He has letters of intent from some large snow-clearing companies and is working with large senior living facilities to pilot his product.

“I want people to see Nivoso robots at the hardware store right next to a snow blower and be faced with the choice of whether or not they want back pain the rest of their life,” he says.

Entrepreneurship and inventing run in the Minakov family. His grandfather was an inventor, and the two of them would tinker and build all the time when he was growing up. One of their projects was an elaborate backyard treehouse modeled after a sailboat that included just about anything you could imagine, from shingles on the outside to a mini fridge on the inside.

Max Minakov as a young boy in an early prototype of a riding lawnmower
Even as a child, Minakov was interested in inventing.

At the Carlson School, Minakov has been able to hone his entrepreneurial skills in a multitude of ways. For instance, while enrolled in Carlson School Impact Lab, instructor Amee McDonald tailored Minakov’s curriculum so that his class assignments applied to his work at Nivoso.

“Everyone at the Carlson School wants you to succeed,” he says. “So many people have gone above and beyond to help me get Nivoso up and running. Without the connections I’ve made at Carlson, I would be lost.”

For those looking to get into entrepreneurship, Minakov has a simple message: Go for it.

“I see a lot of people who don’t have the confidence to begin their startups while still in college,” he says. “But to me, this is the best time to do it. You have more free time than you will after you graduate and you have all of these resources at your disposal. I have failed so many times already, but the fear of that shouldn’t stop anyone from pursuing their dreams.”

This story was adapted from the Carlson School.

Learn more about entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota.