SoftBank’s Vision Fund leads $200m funding in Chinese service robot maker Keenon

SoftBank Group Corp‘s Vision Fund has led a $200-million Series D funding round for Shanghai-based Keenon Robotics, as one of the biggest venture rounds in a Chinese commercial service robots developer, said the investee on Wednesday.

CICC Alpha, a direct investment platform of investment bank China International Capital Corporation Limited (CICC); and Prosperity7 Ventures, the $1-billion venture capital (VC) fund of Aramco Ventures, participated in the Series D round.

China Renaissance served as the exclusive financial advisor to the deal.

Founded in 2010, Keenon develops artificial intelligence (AI)-based service robots as intelligent delivery solutions to industries including real estate, healthcare, and hospitality. It partners with China’s Ele.me, which was acquired by e-commerce giant Alibaba for $9.5 billion in 2018, to offer service robot-enabled smart restaurant solutions to the online food delivery platform’s partners nationwide.

Keenon, which currently ships products to the US, Europe, South Korea, and Singapore, plans to leverage the connections of its new investors to explore new market opportunities and expand its customer base.

In a statement, its founder Tony Li said that Keenon will use the funding to “drive innovation through its in-house R&D to provide new, efficient, and cost-saving applications, while scaling its current robot platform through the expansion in new markets and identifying new prospects to promote growth and boost revenue”.

The Chinese service robot developer is speeding up its global expansion as the COVID-19 pandemic has promoted businesses worldwide to embrace automated, contactless solutions as a safer and more efficient approach in serving customers.

The global service market was estimated to have reached a market size of $20.4 billion in 2020, according to a report from ResearchAndMarkets.com in July. The report expects the market to grow further in the next five years at a pace accelerated by virus-induced social distancing paradigm and related travel restrictions.

The non-contact economy will become an important development trend in the post-pandemic era, said Maxwell Zhou, a founding member and executive general manager at CICC Alpha. “With the continuous maturity of positioning and navigation technologies such as laser SLAM and visual SLAM, commercial service robots represented by food delivery robots will usher in an explosion.”

“We believe robotic solutions can have a profound impact across the services industry by assisting with repetitive, tedious workflows. Using AI and machine learning, combined with advanced manufacturing capabilities, Keenon is building innovative robotics to help increase productivity for restaurants, hotels, and hospitals in China and globally,” said Kentaro Matsui, managing director at SoftBank Group.

As its largest funding round to date, the Series D round followed the completion of its Series C round of “hundreds of millions of yuan” led by SoftBank Ventures Asia in December 2020.

Earlier, the firm raised 200 million yuan ($31.1 million) in a Series B round led by VC firm Source Code Capital in March 2020.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.