Founders: Romain Moulin (CEO), Renaud Heitz
Headquarters: Croix, France
Funding: $477 million
Valuation: $2 billion
Key technologies: Robotics
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 0
The global disruption to the supply chain brought forth by the Covid-19 pandemic threw a wrench in an already changing logistics industry being shaped by technology, complexity, and the desire to meet growing customer and corporate expectations of getting goods in the hands of buyers faster.
That has also pushed further investment into the logistics sector. Amazon, which has looked to strengthen its position as the world's largest retailer by massively increasing its logistics network to stay ahead of Walmart, United Parcel Service, and FedEx, recently announced a $1 billion fund to invest in warehouse technologies that would help increase delivery speed as well as improve the experience of warehouse and logistic employees.
Specifically, Amazon's push into warehouse robotics — it acquired Kiva Systems in 2012 for $775 million, then the second-largest acquisition in its history — sparked the founding of robotics company Exotec, which recently became France's 25th unicorn start-up.
Romain Moulin and Renaud Heitz, who were both working at General Electric Medical on medical robot features, learned that Amazon had planned to keep Kiva's robot fulfillment systems in-house following its acquisition, technology that had been used by companies including Office Depot, The Gap, and Walgreens.
That led Moulin and Heitz to design a robotic order preparation system using robots that could move in three dimensions upwards of 26 feet, enabling high-density storage and retrieval — technology the Exotec co-founders called the Skypod.
Exotec has looked to create further innovations in the warehouse space to maximize operational efficiency and economics. In 2021, it released the Skypicker, an articulated arm that can move items up to 4.4 pounds, allowing for simultaneous preparation of four orders. Using a software system powered by high-res cameras and visualization algorithms, the Skypicker can reach outputs of up to 600 items per hour.
Those advances have not come unnoticed. The company closed a $90 million Series C funding round in the fall of 2020 and has since doubled its revenue and tripled its customer base, which includes Gap, Geodis and Decathalon in North America.
In January, Exotec closed a $335 million Series D round led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management at a $2 billion valuation. Other investors in this most recent round include 83North and Dell Technologies Capital.
The company said it plans to use those funds to continue to launch large-scale deployments in North America, Europe, and Asia for global brands, as well as to hire 500 new engineers to accelerate its warehouse automation technology.
"Following the most significant supply chain disruptions of the modern era, there's only room left for innovation," Moulin, who serves as Exotec's CEO, said in a statement. "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."
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