Warehouse robot manufacturer Deus Robotics valued at $15 million. A year earlier, it was left without an investor and with a single client – “Nova Poshta”
Ukrainian startup Deus Robotics raised $1.5 million from SMRK fund. The previous round, which was three times larger, failed due to the war. Why doesn’t this hinder expansion in the US
How Deus Robotics lost $5 million
In 2022, Pikulin planned to increase production from 40 robots per year to 1,000 and achieve operating profit. “We don’t expect to make a net profit anytime soon,” he told Forbes at the end of December 2021.
But there was a resource for realizing ambitions – Deus Robotics had just signed an investment agreement with BGV Trident Capital. Founded by a Russian with Ukrainian citizenship, Ilya Ponomarev, and co-owner of ATB Gennadiy Butkevich, the fund invested $5 million in the robot manufacturer. According to the contract terms, the money was supposed to arrive by the end of February, says Pikulin, but the startup never saw it.
Deus Robotics planned to expand its team to 80 people, purchase equipment, and launch mass production in Kyiv to produce up to 400 robots per month. Before this, Pikulin assembled robots in small batches at his own R&D center. However, when Russian troops approached within several dozen kilometers of the capital, BGV Trident Capital unilaterally froze funding. At first, it was a pause during the war, Pikulin hoped. “The pause dragged on, and we survived without these investments,” he adds.
Innovative terminal of “Nova Poshta” uses Deus Robotics. Photo by Anton Zabieltskyi for Forbes Ukraine.
The startup team and warehouse stocks were evacuated to Mukachevo in Transcarpathia. In August, a contractor for production appeared – the Odessa electronics factory “Telekart-Prom”. The partner’s capacity allows producing 1,000 units per year, Pikulin claims. The other question is who to sell them to.
Deus Robotics Products
The startup has three robot models:
the smallest – S Bot 10 – used for sorting cargo weighing up to 30 kg;
medium – Rack Robot – for transporting cargo up to 300 kg;
cargo – Heavy Robot – can transport objects weighing up to 1 ton.
All robots work from 8 to 12 hours on a single charge, charging time to 100% is three hours. Pikulin does not disclose the cost of the products, citing commercial secrecy.
How to sell Ukrainian robots in the US
Before the war, Deus Robotics negotiated with a dozen Ukrainian companies but revealed only one client – “Nova Poshta.” Currently, it is the only one that has not frozen relations with the startup. In August 2022, Deus Robotics began working at the logistics terminal of “Nova Poshta” in Bila Tserkva. The order volume is over 40 robots. The founder does not disclose its value and the startup’s current financial indicators.
In early 2023, potential Ukrainian clients of the startup – retailers, online stores, logistics companies – began cautiously returning to negotiations. But the founder, with a new investor on board, aims for the American market.
“Their expertise suits us: Kosovan knows how to create successful IT companies, Tislenko is knowledgeable about hardware companies,” says Pikulin. Currently, one of the most successful “iron” startups in SMRK’s portfolio is Ajax Systems by Oleksandr Konotopskyi, which opened a factory in Turkey in 2022 and launched sales in the US. Forbes-surveyed investment analysts estimate Ajax’s revenue at $150–200 million.
Pavlo Pikulin, founder of Deus Robotics. Photo by Ilya Ratman.
“With our robots, people work 3-5 times more efficiently than without them,” Pikulin boasts. The solutions were tailored for sorting parcels in postal operator warehouses and assembling orders for online stores.
Deus Robotics is not a pioneer in its niche. In 2022, the global warehouse robot market was worth $5.7 billion, according to researchers at IMARC Group. Among the most famous players are Amazon Robotics, Chinese Quicktron, which serves AliExpress warehouses, and DHL partner Locus Robotics.
Pikulin found a competitive advantage during the war and blackouts due to Russian attacks on energy infrastructure. Deus Robotics engineers upgraded the robots to force them to constantly maintain a charge above 40%. This optimizes the autonomous working time, even when the warehouse loses power.
For the US market, the startup changed its name – until 2022, it was called Deus Robots. Americans like it more, says Pikulin. Whether the new name will speed up the signing of a contract is unknown. Negotiations with the first American client are ongoing, without going into details, says the founder. Also, in 2023, there are plans to enter Poland and create new models. Will $1.5 million be enough for this? Deus Robotics wants to attract the next round of funding in late summer to early autumn.