3 questions to smart minds

In just 3 years, Agile Robots became the first robotics unicorn

For this 3 questions to Prof. Dr. Christoph von Einem

ARQIS, Munich
Photo: Prof. Dr. Chris­toph von Einem
14. Septem­ber 2021

ARQIS advi­sed Agile Robots AG, a highly inno­va­tive robo­tics company, on its Series C finan­cing round led by Soft­bank Vision Fund 2 with a total invest­ment of USD 220 million. The proceeds from this finan­cing will be used prima­rily for product deve­lo­p­ment, the expan­sion of series produc­tion in Germany and China, and global sales. Prof. Dr. Chris­toph von Einem, has advi­sed the company since its foun­da­tion. — How do you become the first German Unicorn in the robo­tics indus­try and valued at more than one billion US dollars in just 3 years?

For this 3 ques­ti­ons to Prof. Dr. Chris­toph von Einem, ARQIS, Munich

1. They have mana­ged AGILE ROBOTS from its incep­tion to its now 6th round of funding. How is it possi­ble to become a Unicorn in such a short time?

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.

2. Who approa­ched the inter­na­tio­nal inves­tors? Were there no inte­res­ted parties in Germany?

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.

3. At this rate, AGILE ROBOT may ask when and where the IPO is planned?

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.

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