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France gets its fourth unicorn of 2022; autonomous robot maker grabs $335M at $2B valuation

Image credits: Exotec

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce has boomed drastically. Consequently, the surge in online sales is good news for companies like Lille-based industrial robotics company Exotec used by some of the world’s biggest retailers and businesses.

Fourth French tech unicorn of 2022

Now, Exotec has announced to have bagged $335 million in Series D funding, which took its valuation to $2 billion. Notably, the company has clutched the position of the fourth French tech unicorn position of 2022. Since this year’s debut, we saw HR tech PayFit, online marketplace Ankorstore and refurbished marketplace Back Market from France attain unicorn status.

The latest round was led by growth equity arm at Goldman Sachs Asset Management along with follow-on investments from 83North and Dell Technologies Capital. This round followed the Series C funding round of $90 million it secured in 2020. Also, it takes the total investment raised by Exotec to $477 million.

The French company will use the new funding to continue its deployments in Europe, Asia, and North America. Also, it will focus on further developing its automation technology. The firm also intends to beef up its R&D department and announces to be in plans to onboard at least 500 new engineers within 2025.

“Following the most significant supply chain disruptions of the modern era, there’s only room left for innovation,” commented co-founder and CEO Romain Moulin. “While the entire logistics sector is fraught with uncertainty, one of the most prevalent challenges is ongoing labor shortages. Exotec pioneers a new path: elegant collaboration between human and robot workers that delivers warehouse productivity in a lasting, far more sustainable way.”

Commenting on the investment, Christian Resch, MD in the Growth Equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said, “Exotec is well-positioned to seize the enormous warehouse automation market opportunity both because of its global presence and strong track record of success with industry-leading retailers and brands. Exotec builds scalable solutions that are an accelerant for change and supports business growth despite market disruptions.”

“Exotec warehouse robotics have transformed our logistics operations in multiple markets around the world, most recently in our Montreal fulfillment center,” added Richard Tremblay, Logistics Manager at Decathlon Canada. “We value the unique combination of speed, performance, and flexibility that allows us to provide leading service to our customers. We look forward to a long-term partnership with Exotec.”

Robotic order preparation system

The idea of Exotec began in 2014 on a bus when the co-founders Romain Moulin and Renaud Heitz, who worked at General Electric Medical heard that Amazon decided to keep the revolutionary KIVA robot technology to themselves.

Thinking of this news, the two engineers decided they could do better. Eventually, they came up with the idea of Exotec and designed a robotic order preparation system, which uses a fleet of robots that can move in three dimensions.

Since then, Exotec has sold a complete end-to-end solution that converts a regular warehouse into a partially automated logistics platform. Notably, it is both a hardware and software solution, which replaces some human tasks.

Skypods: all you need to know

The key component launched by the Exotec system is called Skypods, the low-profile robots that roam the floor autonomously (horizontally and vertically). When Skypods are placed next to the right track, these robots can go up the rack to pick a bin and go down with it. This is useful in increasing the storage density of any warehouse as the products can be stored a few meters above the ground.

After selecting the bin, the Skypod carries it to a picking station for human operators to choose the right product in the bin. Once it is done, robots can go back to the racks and put the bin back on the shelf.

Having said that, humans do not have to move within the warehouse, and they can focus on picking, packing and ensuring that the product goes in and out of the warehouse.

Users can expand the infrastructure by working from scratch to add new racks. With Exotec, users can also add more Skypods in the system. Basically, Exotec has relied on Skypods to store products in the fulfillment centre.

Furthermore, the French unicorn has created new robots to remove humans from the crucial steps involved in the ordering process. Some customers include an inventory bin and put them in a ready-to-ship bin.

Using the standardised bin system, Exotec can store several products in a single bin. Notably, there should be 18 products in that bin though customers want to purchase only. Mostly, users will not need the whole bin.

Deals and products

Further, Exotec has signed deals with brands including Gap and Geodis and expanded its work with existing clients in new markets. Most recently they joined hands with sports brand Decathlon and deployed the Skypod System in its Montreal fulfillment center following Europe.

Additionally, the company debuted its Skypicker technology, an articulated arm able to move 600 items per hour to support high-volume fulfillment and returns, and it employs more than 300 professionals globally.

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