In just 3 years, Agile Robots became the first robotics unicorn
In my more than 30 years of consulting practice on the various topics in the field of venture capital, I have always had a preference for providing all-round support to founders from the very beginning. Ann Kristin Achleitner once characterized me with the title “Legal Management Consultant”. So I actively advised Zhaopeng Chen and Peter Meusel when they were still at DLR but already had a verbal commitment from the first (Chinese) investors in hand. At the time, we immediately opted for an AG in view of the international dimension, which has proved extremely successful. Because CEO Dr. Zhaopeng Chen has been living with his family in Upper Bavaria since 2008 and earned his doctorate here, and has not given up his good contacts to Chinese investors and entrepreneurs, he is able to combine the best of both worlds — Germany as a technology location with a deep tradition of mechanical engineering and China with the largest sales market for robots of various performance levels.
We already put up the structure for our Chinese subsidiaries after the 2nd seed round where Sequoia invested. Today, there are around 440 employees worldwide, 130 of them in Munich and 310 in Beijing and at a further 5 locations in China. Our consulting at ARQIS not only included the efficient support and deal management of the 6 investment rounds to date (Seed 1 and 2, PreA, A, B and C) with meanwhile 22 different funds and investors, but also the implementation of stock option and VSOP programs for the German and Chinese employees — my special topic — as well as the setting up of a worldwide IP strategy under the leadership of my IP partner Marcus Nothhelfer.
Agile Robots never had trouble attracting investors because its unique technology was highly valued by insiders. So there was no need for financial advisors. But demand and, in particular, the speed at which decisions are made about whether or not to invest are much faster in Asia than in Europe, just as they are in Silicon Valley. I have repeatedly approached European and German VCs I know well about Agile Roots starting in the Pre A round. Many were also very interested, but in the end investors like Sequoia (on board for 5 rounds) and Softbank, who had already been involved with Agile from Series B onwards, were much faster with their due diligence and willingness to call interesting valuations than the Europeans.
As recently as July/August, I had approached various German, including state-owned, co-investors with reference to the present term sheet of Softbank as the lead investor, in order to document stronger ties to Germany, but unfortunately without any positive response. It was extremely important for Agile Robots to attract major international investors such as Softbank, Sequoia and Hillhouse or the Royal Group from Abu Dhabi in this round, as well as well-known strategists such as Foxconn from Taiwan.
With the broad international investor base that Agile Robots now has, it should only be a matter of time before the company is “ready” for an IPO. I can very well imagine that Agile Robots will be very solidly positioned in 2023 with its sales in China and Europe and hopefully already beyond. At least the huge demand in China helps us a lot and also big German companies have already explored the possibilities of using Agile robots in their production through their Chinese subsidiaries and want to do Profs of Concept with Agile.
With Softbank on our side, I can well imagine us heading for an IPO on NASDAQ, still the best stock exchange for technology companies. Before that, there will probably be another D round next year, hopefully with European investors.