At STIQ, we didn't really think of this transaction as anything special. However, when we read that SoftBank was involved we became more interested and thought it could be worth looking into. This is what we found alongside some of our views:
Note that STIQ has not contacted any of the companies in this post for comment. (feel free to contact us!)
WHAT IS UNITED ROBOTICS GROUP?
[United Robotics Group, website screenshot January 2023]
- In 1992, Thomas Hahn founded HAHN Automation, a German system integrator of industrial robots.
- In 2014, RSGB acquired a majority stake in HAHN Automation. This investment/investor led to multiple bolt-on acquisitions by HAHN, including the IP from Rethink Robotics well publicised demise in 2018.
- In 2020, Thomas Hahn spun up a new division of HAHN Automation called United Robotics Group (URG), with an apparent focus on restaurant/food serving robots, information robots, etc.
- In 2022, The URG spin-off appeared to be separated from HAHN's balance sheet and treated as a subsidiary of RSBG rather than HAHN Automation (link, unconfirmed!). Thomas Hahn became the CEO of URG whilst HAHN Automation brought on a new CEO.
STIQs view: Investors in HAHN Automation may have pushed the company as far as they could with the original founder and planned for a new CEO from 2020. Keeping the founder as a part of the investment company instead of as a subsidiary of HAHN Automation may partly have been to ensure HAHN's focus on industrial applications. URG feels a bit like a pet project by the founder, no doubt a wealthy person by now (and potentially even more when HAHN Automation goes public or is sold).
A SHORT HISTORY OF URG
- United Robotics Group (URG) was founded in 2020 by Thomas Hahn.
- In 2021, URG penned a deal with Softbank Robotics Europe SAS to distribute its Pepper and Nao robots
- In 2022, URG announced the acquisition of a French subsidiary of SoftBank Robotics Group Corp, SoftBank Robotics Europe SAS (source). As a part of this deal, SoftBank also acquired a minority stake in URG.
- Aldebaran (France) was founded in 2005 and was acquired by SoftBank in 2012 (80% share at EV $125m, source).
- Aldebaran, renamed to SoftBank Robotics Europe SAS, produced the Pepper and Nao robots.
- After the acquisition by URG, Softbank Robotics Europe SAS changed its name back to Aldebaran.
[Aldebaran, website screenshot January 2023]
STIQ's view: SoftBank are known to have struggled with commercial traction for its Pepper and Nao robots. The most likely deal (STIQ hypothesis!) was that SoftBank exchanged it's French robotics subsidiary to URG in return for a minority stake.
- In 2023, URG announced they acquired a majority stake in Robotnik (source).
STIQ's view: The Robotnik deal appeared to be an opportunistic deal where Robotnik may have struggled with revenue growth and perhaps lack or investor appetite rather than being a carefully construed acquisition, similar to the Rethink Robotics deal.
So, if you have a robotics company and struggle to find an investor, URG might just be a potential buyer. But they're probably not going to throw the cheque book at you asking how many zeroes you need...
At STIQ, we're looking forward to the next evolution of URG as it seems to be a company in the process of building/bolting on a range of internal capabilities and probing various business cases for its robots.