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Robotics Fundings, Acquisitions and IPOs: May 2018

By: Strategic Advisor Frank Tobe of The Robot Report

Twenty-seven startups were funded in May for a total of $2.5 billion. The top five were:

  1. Cruise Holdings announced a two-phase funding by SoftBank Vision Fund totaling $2.25 billion. $900 million will be funded right away. Future funding of $1.35 billion is contingent on two things: regulatory approval and at the time when Cruise AVs are ready for commercial deployment. At that time GM will also invest another $1.1 billion thereby providing sufficient capital to reach commercialization beginning in 2019.
  2. UBTech Robotics, the Chinese toy robot builder, raised $820 million to help them develop adult-sized robots for commercial applications.
  3. Ocado, the UK online grocer, raised $247 million by selling a 5% stake to US grocer Kroger.
  4. Roadstar AI, another Chinese startup, raised $128 million for their radars and sensors for self-driving vehicles.
  5. SoundHound, a Silicon Valley developer of voice-enabled AI for consumer robots and self-driving vehicles raised $100 million.

This month’s $2.5 billion in fundings doubles the January thru April total of $2.5 billion. Thus a YTD of $5 billion!

Four acquisitions occurred in May. The most notable was SPX Corp., the large inspection equipment components manufacturer, which acquired CUES, a Florida robotic pipeline video inspection and rehab company, for $189 million.

Fundings

  1. Cruise Holdings announced a two-phase funding by SoftBank Vision Fund totaling $2.25 billion. $900 million will be funded right away. Future funding of $1.35 billion is contingent on two things: regulatory approval and at the time when Cruise AVs are ready for commercial deployment. At that time GM will also invest another $1.1 billion to provide the combined capital to reach commercialization beginning in 2019. As a result of this two-pronged funding, SoftBank Vision Fund will end up owning a 19.6% equity stake in GM Cruise.
    Placing the roof instruments. Look at all those LiDARs!
  2. UBTech Roboticsthe Chinese toy robot builder that’s been featured in the Guinness Book of Records for the most simultaneous dancing robots, raised $820 million in a Series C funding round led by Tencent Holdings with participation from Green Pine Capital, Haier Group, Minsheng Securities, CDH Investments and Telstra. The new investment brings UBTech’s valuation to approximately $5 billion. UBTech said the money would be used to develop adult-sized humanoid robots and will focus particularly on the R&D of servo systems, movement control algorithms for walking, and computer vision.
  3. Ocadothe UK leader in home-delivered groceries using robot-run distribution centers, which raised ~$192.5 million (in Feb) by selling shares of it’s publicly traded stock (LON:OCDO), has established a licensing deal with US grocery chain Kroger whereby Kroger will take a 5% stake in Ocado – an investment valued at ~$247.5 million and Ocado will help Kroger set up systems to help it manage online ordering, fulfillment and delivery operations. Ocado invested $57.5 million on technology last year, up from $46 million the previous year. The company is developing proprietary technology and has also increased its tech staff to 1,100.  The company uses about 500 robots interacting with each other on a grid which have allowed it to process more than 20,000 orders.
  4. Roadstar.AIa Chinese self-driving startup integrating multiple sensors and LiDARs, cameras, radars, GPS and IMU to provide time and spatial synchronization for self-driving vehicles, raised $128 million in a series A round led by Wu Capital and Shenzhen Capital Group and also Yunqi Partners, CMBI International Capital Corporation Ltd and Vision Capital.
  5. SoundHounda Silicon Valley developer of voice-enabled AI for consumer robots and self-driving vehicles, raised $100 million in a round full of strategic partners: Tencent, Midea, Hyundai, Daimler and France Telecom (Orange).
  6. Rapid Micro Biosystemsa Mass-based lab sciences testing equipment provider, raised $60 million in a venture round led by Bain Capital and Xeraya Capital
  7. Saildronean Alameda, CA autonomous marine surface vehicle collecting scientific data, raised $60 million in a Series B funding led by Horizons Ventures and also Capricorn’s Technology Impact Fund, Lux Capital, Social Capital, and The Schmidt Family Foundation.
  8. Hesai Photonics Technologya Chinese laser sensor maker for self-driving vehicles, raised $39 million in a Series B round led by Lightspeed and Baidu. Hesai also makes a natural gas safety drone which can sense leaks in hi-rise buildings.
  9. Medical Microinstrumentsan Italian maker of a robotic platform for microsurgery, raised $24.5 million in a Series A round led by Andera Partners with participation from Panakes Partners and Fountain Healthcare, returning seed investor Sambatech, and industry veterans Gus Castello, former Senior Vice President of Product Operations for Intuitive Surgical Inc., and John Engels, founder of AxoGen, Inc.
  10. Cowa Robotthe Chinese follow-me suitcase startup, raised $21.2 million in a Series B round jointly led by SoftBank China Venture Capital and China Creation Ventures with additional participation from Infore Capital, China Minsheng Investment Group.
  11. Soft Robotics, a Cambridge, MA-based startup which designs and builds soft robotic gripping systems, raised $20 million in a round led by Hyperplane Venture Capital and including Scale Venture Partners, Calibrate Ventures, Honeywell Ventures, Tekfen Ventures, Yamaha Motor, Material Impact, ABB Technology Ventures, Taylor Farms Ventures and Haiyin Capital.
  12. Trio.AI, a Beijing startup developing a dialogue engine for IoT and robotics, raised $17 million in a Series B round led by HanFor, China Minsheng Investment Group, Foxconn Technology Group and Xiamen Torch Group.
  13. Superpedestrian, the Boston-based developer of the Copenhagen Wheel to enhance bicycles by amplifying pedal power by up to 10X, raised $16.5 million in a Series B round from Extol Capital LLC, Spark Capital and General Catalyst. This brings Superpedestrian’s total investment to ~$44 million.
  14. Fictiva San Francisco-based developer of a virtual manufacturing platform used by Silicon Valley autonomous vehicles and medical robotics providers, raised $15 million in a Series B funding from Accel, Intel Capital, FJ Labs, Tandon Group, Stanford-StartX Fund, and Bill Gates.
  15. Arevo Labs, a Silicon Valley provider of carbon fiber 3D printing technology, raised $12.5 million in Series B funding led by Asahi Glass and joined by Sumitomo Corporation of Americas, Leslie Ventures and Khosla Ventures.
  16. Ressona Canadian ag analytics provider, raised $10.9 million in a Series C round led by Mahindra & Mahindra with existing partners McCain Foods, Monsanto Growth Ventures, Build Ventures, Rho Canada, BDC Capital, East Valley Ventures and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.
  17. EcoRobotixthe Swiss ag-tech startup developing a mobile weeding robot, raised $10.7 million in a Series B funding round led by BASF Venture Capital with participation by Business Angels Swiss, 4FO Ventures, Investiere, and CapAgro.
  18. Algolux, a Canadian provider of machine-learning stacks for autonomous vision and imaging, raised $10 million in Series A funding. General Motors Ventures led the round, and was joined by investors including Drive Capital, Intact Ventures, and Real Ventures.
  19. ForwardX, a Chinese follow-me suitcase developer, raised $10 million in a Series A round led by CDH Investments and Eastern Bell Venture Capital
  20. Metawave, a Silicon Valley developer of beam steering radars for autonomous vehicle apps, raised $10 million in funding. Investors include DENSO, Toyota AI Ventures, Hyundai Motor Company, Asahi Glass, Motus Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Autotech Ventures, Bold Capital, SAIC Capital, Western Technology Investment (WTI), and Alrai Capital.
  21. Verifly Holdings, a U.K.-based manufacturer of drone control systems and on-demand insurance sales agency, raised $7 million in funding. Investors include Slow Ventures, OpenOcean, and the founders of Kayak and HotelTonight.
  22. Hummingbird Technologies, a UK-based drone, aerial and satellite sensing ag startup, raised $4.1 million in a Series A funding round from The European Space Agency, Sir James Dyson, Newable Private Investing and Velcourt, the UK’s largest commercial farming operation.
  23. Plus One Robotics, a Texas vision and controls systems developer for robotic automation, raised $2.35 million (in 2017) in a seed round led by Schematic Ventures and joined by Lerer Hippeau, FF Venture Capital, First Star and Dynamo.
  24. SkySquirrel Technologies (which recently merged into VineView), a Canadian ag drone and analytics provider for the wine industry, raised $2.3 million (in January) from an Ontario-based private investor and Innovacorp.
  25. Kewazoa German robotic construction equipment startup, raised $1.2 million in a seed round led by MIG Fonds 14 and Alfred Bauer.
  26. C2RO Roboticsa Canadian startup enabling mapping, self-localization, and autonomous path planning in real-time with cloud-based SLAM, has raised $1.1 million in a seed round led by Chicago-based Harbor Street Ventures, with the participation of Fonds InnovExport, TandemLaunch Ventures and several angel investors in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.
  27. Beijing Tiddler (AI Nemo), a Chinese consumer products and home companion robot developer, raised an undisclosed amount in a Series C round led by Baidu with participation from Foxconn.

Acquisitions

  1. CUESa 50-year old, 365-person Florida robotic video pipeline inspection and rehab company, was acquired by SPX Corpan inspection equipment components manufacturer, for $189 million.
  2. SkySquirrel Technologies, a Canadian ag-industry startup, has merged into VineView, Scientific Aerial Imaginga California ag startup which will now be headquartered in Halifax, Nova Scotia. SkySquirrel’s founder and CEO will remain CEO of the new combined company.
  3. Mavrxa failing San Francisco-based aerial imagery platform startup, was acquired for an undisclosed amount by Israeli ag aerial imagery provider Taranis. Mavrx, which raised $12.5 million since 2012, ran into some financial and operational difficulty and was not able to service its clients for the upcoming growing season despite providing a popular product with a 90% customer renewal rate.
  4. Jodonea Boston robotics-related software and AI startup, was acquired by RightHand Robotics for an undisclosed amount.

IPOs

  • None

Failures

  • Ticktock AI — tried lots of approaches but never solved any problems that people wanted solved — good review here.

An Aside:

It seems like seed rounds are getting bigger and less frequent while Series A rounds are happening later in the development cycle. So says Bessemer Venture partner Amit Karp in a recent post on Medium.

“Most early stage startups we meet these days attempt to raise a $2M-$4M seed investment with some seed rounds expanding even further. These larger seed rounds are often led by a new pool of dedicated seed funds. In addition, the larger funds sometimes also participate in these early rounds, which results in even larger seed rounds (and often higher valuations). Angel investors are often added into the mix to bring more credibility and help with their experience in the early stages of the startup, but it’s a ‘professional’ seed investor who often leads the seed round.”

According to Karp there are several implications to these new large seed rounds:

    1. Series-A financing is pushed later, and Series-A investors now expect to see much more business traction before they commit.
    2. Series-A rounds have also become larger and are now often north of $8M. This reduces the amount of Series-A investors as it requires a larger fund to invest in that stage.
    3. Securing a Series-A investment is more difficult than it used to be since there are fewer funds and the startup needs to demonstrate more business traction.
    4. Lastly, and likely most important, is that the winners are separated from the losers earlier than ever. It is very difficult for a startup which raised a $500K seed round to compete with another startup that raised $4M at the same stage. A similar phenomena to the massive SoftBank fundings.

Reviewing The Robot Report’s Y-T-D 2018 seed rounds, there were 13 fundings averaging $3.8 million each thus confirming Karp’s thesis from our smaller sample of robotics-related fundings.

    • May: $1.2M and $1.1M
    • April: $3M
    • March: $10M, $6M, $2M and $1.1M
    • February: $11.5M, $5.5M and $2M
    • January: $3M, $2.8M and $750k
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