When Walmart comes knocking


as i’m typing This, I just completed my second panel for my big TC sessions: Mobility Events. The write-up for next week’s roundup will be ready in time, but in the meantime there are a few things worth thinking about.

The first is partnerships with big companies like Walmart. I get the sense that Walmart really likes to play the fray by partnering with smaller tech startups. And honestly, why not, right?

There is a lot of upside and relatively little downside. At the end of the day, a company like Walmart is looking for a competitive advantage against Amazon, the galactic emperor of competitive advantages. Of course, Amazon has invested a ton in robotics, including acquisitions and first-party development.

image credit: Wein Cao / Nerdshala

For startups, there is tremendous ups and downs here. It’s hard not to see a company like Bossa Nova as a kind of cautionary tale on that front. The promising inventory scanning startup suffered a setback when Walmart withdrew from a deal in which the company had invested huge resources. It shook Bossa Nova, to say the least.

There is no easy math on this. When a company like Walmart knocks on your door with a big contract, you want to jump in with both feet. But how do you avoid putting all your eggs in that one basket? When it comes to emerging technology, companies like Walmart like to play the fray.

Another topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time is whether universities are doing enough to foster innovation in their backyards. There are a lot of good and bad examples of this, but as someone who writes about robots, I keep coming back to Carnegie Mellon. Other large robotics schools, such as MIT and Stanford, did not concern themselves with brain drain in large part due to location.

image credit: Carnegie Mellon University

So, how does a school like CMU help budding entrepreneurs transform from lab to startup and keep that talent in their backyard? The good news is that I’ll be able to take that question straight to the source. I will be interviewing CMU President Farnam Jahanian at TC’s upcoming Virtual Pittsburgh event on June 29. Here’s a quote from Jahanian to whet your appetite:

Carnegie Mellon’s decades-long leadership in research and education in AI and robotics has catalyzed an innovation ecosystem in the Pittsburgh area where entrepreneurship, creativity and space-making make a difference. These emerging technologies are changing the way we farm, enabling millions of people to learn a new language, leading the race to develop self-driving vehicles, and even landing on the moon. are going too. We are committed to empowering citizens in Pittsburgh to participate in the economic benefits of these innovations as they continue to transform our world.

Gideon Brothers Robot

image credit: gideon brothers

As we move into the summer, investments in the category aren’t coming in as fast and furiously as they were in the prior year. But I have a good right that we’ll see some more robotics funding announcements in the not-too-distant future. Of course, for all the reasons I mentioned earlier, warehouse space remains hot. And this week a Croatian firm called Gideon Brothers announced a $31 million raise. From a recent excerpt from Mike, here is CEO Matija Kopic:

The pandemic has greatly accelerated the adoption of smart automation, and we are poised to meet unprecedented market demand. The best way to do this is to combine our proprietary solutions with the largest, most demanding customers. Our strategic partners have real challenges that our robots are already solving, and, with us, they are taking advantage of the incredible opportunity to effect robot-driven transformation in some of the world’s most innovative organizations.

Kopik and the team should clearly all consider changing their last name to Gideon and do a full Ramones job. Of course, they’re the ones who just raised $31 million, so they might be doing something right.

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