Serve Robotics Closes $13M Expanded Seed Round
Investors include 7-Eleven, Uber, DX Ventures, and Wavemaker Labs.
Robot delivery startup Serve Robotics announced today that it has closed a $13 million expanded seed funding round. Uber, Delivery Hero-backed DX Ventures, 7-Eleven’s venture arm 7-Ventures and Wavemaker Labs all participated in the round. The new funding is an expansion of Serve’s prior seed funding and also include participation from existing investors Neo, Western Technology Investment and others.
Today’s announcement comes almost three years to the day that the Serve robot was first announced. Back then it was part of food delivery service Postmates, which was later acquired by Uber — which then spun off Serve Robotics as its own entity in March of this year. Bringing things full circle, not only is Uber an investor in Serve (Uber also put money into Serve at the time of the spinoff), but Uber Eats partnered with Serve to launch robot delivery in Los Angeles next year.
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Most intriguing about today’s announcement is the participation from 7-Eleven, which appears to be upping its autonomous delivery game. Just last week, the convenience store chain announced that it was piloting autonomous delivery with Nuro in Mountain View California. That test, however, is initially using Nuro’s full-sized autonomous Prius, and not Nuro’s smaller pod-like R2 delivery vehicle.
In some ways, a Serve Robot seems better suited to convenience store deliveries than a full-sized car, or even the R2. Typically items you grab at a 7-Eleven are smaller — Twinkie’s, Slim Jims, regret after eating all those snacks — so using a sidewalk vehicle instead of a full-sized auto seems preferable from an environmental and traffic congestion standpoint.
Serve has already been making c-store type deliveries from Pink Dot in the West Hollydood neighborhood of Los Angeles for the past year.
It’s also worth noting Wavemaker’s participation in this round of funding. The incubator is very active in the food automation space, but to our knowledge this is the first delivery robot startup that Wavemaker has invested in. Additionally, companies in the Wavemaker portfolio typically go the crowdfunding route, though startups like Miso Robotics have taken insititutional money.
Serve said it will use the new funding to “accelerate the company’s path to commercial scale, driving its fleet expansion, geographic growth, and continued product development.” It’s definitely going to need a bulked up warchest, especially in its hometown of Los Angeles where robo-competition is fierce. Upstart robot delivery company Coco raised $36 million in August and just signed a manufacturing deal with Segway to ramp up production. And Kiwibot has been making deliveries on the campus of Loyola Marymount University and is working with Disney to turn their bots into mobile billboards.
But as Serve CEO Ali Kashani recently told OttOmate, he believes his company has an advantage over these other startups because Serve has been making deliveries in L.A. for so long now. Serve has tons of data about and existing relationships with the city to make expanding that much easier for its service.
With COVID variants being a continued presence across the U.S. and the globe, there is a good chance that interest in delivery robots will continue to accelerate. As Omicron sadly seems to be highly transmissable, having contactless delivery options like robots will become more important to restaurant and other food providers. So it’s a pretty safe bet we’ll see more money go into more delivery robot startups in the coming months.