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Robotics fundings, IPOs and acquisitions for June/July

July 24, 2015

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Below are recaps of the eleven June and July fundings, IPOs and acquisitions for robot and robotics related companies, followed by a thoughtful piece by Farhad Manjoo of the NY Times about why start-ups are staying private. UPDATED 7/30/15 to add Rethink Robotics April add-on to an earlier Series D funding and Siemens’ investment in Magazino in May.

Fundings and IPOs

Surgical device maker Transenterix raised $50 million from an IPO and market switch that transferred their stock from the over-the-counter market to the special small-cap MKT Exchange on the NYSE. This followed on the heels of Corindus Vascular Robotics, which raised $42 million in late May by offering 11 million shares at $3.80 and then went public on the same NYSE MKT exchange.

SoftBank along with O’Reilly AlphaTech and shasta Ventures invested $20M into Fetch Robotics, which recently demonstrated their Fetch and Freight robot system at ICRA in May. Also at ICRA was the Amazon picking challenge. Both Fetch and the challenge are focused on the material handling aspects of warehousing and distribution center operations and represent a hot area for capital expenditures in those applications.

Foxconn and Alibaba invested $118M each into SoftBank Robotics in a strategic move sure to have long-term ramifications. Foxconn and Alibaba’s combined investment equals a 40% share of the new SoftBank Robotic Group, an entity which holds the France-based Aldebaran Robotics, the new Pepper social robot, and the Pepper SDK software group.

Orbotix, the maker of the Sphero line of toys, received $45M in equity funding from the Walt Disney Company and Mercato Partners bringing their total funding to date to $80M. Disney and Sphero have a new Star Wars game app.

Robotic flatbread maker Zimplistic got $11.5M from two venture funds: a Southeast Asia private equity firm, NSI Ventures, and the venture arm of Robert Bosch GmbH, the global supplier of technology products and services for the auto and home. Zimplistic, the Singapore and Silicon Valley startup behind the Rotimatic, the home flatbread maker, sold over $5 million at their launch last year. Today, they have a backlog of $72M in orders and over 5,000 distribution partnership requests.

Zymergen, which integrates robots, big data, and software to unlock the potential of biology of future materials, received $44 million in funding from Data Collective, True Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and other VCs.

Teledyne invested capital to increase their ownership stake to 37% in Ocean Aero, the San Diego based unmanned naval systems startup. The amount of the transaction was undisclosed. Ocean Aero is developing autonomous, highly persistent, wind/electric unmanned vessels for surveillance, research and oil and gas monitoring.

Rethink Robotics added $13.4M to their Series D round of funding in April (the original Series D was for $24.6M in December) and added a new participant: GE Ventures.

Siemens, the conglomerate, in May, bought 49.9% of Magazino GmbH, a German materials handling startup, for an undisclosed amount.

Acquisitions

Vecna, a robotic mobility provider for hospitals and warehouses, acquired VGo, a provider of mobile telepresence devices, for an undisclosed amount. Similar to the strategic acquisition of Segway by Chinese Ninebot – a situation where Segway was suing Ninebot for IP infringement – and where Segway’s IP passed on to Ninebot, VGo’s IP, which has already undergone thorough court vetting, passes its IP to Vecna in the acquisition.

Bimba Manufacturing acquired Intek Products for an undisclosed amount. Both are American companies that manufacture actuators and other automation and motion components for robot makers and others.

Video compression and image processing semiconductor manufacturer Ambarella acquired VisLab, a lab within the University of Parma focused on perception systems, for $30M. VisLab has developed computer vision and intelligent control systems for automotive and other commercial applications including ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) and several generations of autonomous vehicle driving systems including “Porter,” the autonomous vehicle that made a 13,000 km trip from Italy to China in 2010.

Canadian sUAS developer Draganfly Innovations was acquired by TRACE Live Networks, a California company with operations in Calgary and Toronto. No information was available as to the amount of the transaction. TRACE said that the two companies will collaborate on the further advancement of the TRACE Live Network auto-follow devices and live-streaming platform. They will also initiate development of several commercial applications for TRACE’s visually intelligent SmartCamera technology.

Why are startups staying private?

I’ve excerpted a few paragraphs from the NY Times article “As More Tech Start-Ups Stay Private, So Does the Money” by Farhad Manjoo. The whole article is worth reading.

Something strange has happened in the last couple of years: The initial public offering of stock has become déclassé. For start-up entrepreneurs and their employees across Silicon Valley, an initial public offering is no longer a main goal. Instead, many founders talk about going public as a necessary evil to be postponed as long as possible because it comes with more problems than benefits.

“If you can get $200 million from private sources, then yeah, I don’t want my company under the scrutiny of the unwashed masses who don’t understand my business,” said Danielle Morrill, the chief executive of Mattermark, a start-up that organizes and sells information about the start-up market. “That’s actually terrifying to me.”

Silicon Valley’s sudden distaste for the I.P.O. — rooted in part in Wall Street’s skepticism of new tech stocks — may be the single most important psychological shift underlying the current tech boom. Staying private affords start-up executives the luxury of not worrying what outsiders think and helps them avoid the quarterly earnings treadmill.

During a recent presentation for Andreessen Horowitz’s limited partners — the institutions that give money to the venture firm — Marc Andreessen, the firm’s co-founder, told the journalist Dan Primack that he had never seen a sharper divergence in how investors treat public- and private-company chief executives. “They tell the public C.E.O., ‘Give us the money back this quarter,’ and they tell the private C.E.O., ‘No problem, go for 10 years,’ ” Mr. Andreessen said.

At some point this tension will be resolved. “Private valuations will not forever be higher than public valuations,” said Mr. Levitan, of Maveron. “So the question is, Will private markets capitulate and go down or will public markets go up?”

If the private investors are wrong, employees, founders and a lot of hedge funds could be in for a reckoning. But if they’re right, it will be you and me wearing the frown — the public investors who missed out on the next big thing.

Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series... read more



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