Most of us have to consult a map or type it into a our cellphone when trying to figure out where Kitchener, Ontario, is located. Ontario is easy enough to find: it’s big and central and had a baseball team that twice won the World Series. Kitchener, on the other hand, is not in the map’s legend of technology centers.
Coming of age and getting popular
“The market is heating up. People are paying attention and acquisitions are happening,” said Clearpath’s CEO and co-founder Matt Rendall to Forbes.
“We have a couple of years’ head start on the market, but because the velocity is picking up, we need to add fuel to the fire. A big focus for us over the last eighteen months has been to grow our relationships with Fortune 500 companies,” he related to the Globe and Mail.
“They operate at a massive scale. We got ourselves into this situation where there were really big contracts on the go, where if one of our other contracts hits we’d start to lose the ability to take on new ones.”
That kind of potential is what captured the attention and cash of VC firms New York-based RRE Ventures and Montreal-based iNovia Capital. The $11.2 million capital infusion will be used to scale the company’s production to meet anticipated demand and to acquire sufficient engineering staff to get the job done.
The Waterloo Effect
Recognizing the rise of the University of Waterloo/Kitchener spinoff phenomena, iNovia opened an office in town.
“The University of Waterloo is consistently producing some of the best performing product teams in the world,” says iNovia’s Karamdeep Nijjar.
“There are maybe five to ten schools in the entire world that can point to that sort of track record over the last few years.”
Diversified as well
In addition to its line of small autonomous vehicles, Clearpath has another business–automation software–which, according to Rendell, allows customers to “roboticize” existing heavy equipment for mining, farming or other tedious and dangerous jobs that are well-suited to automation.
“If it’s got four wheels we want to automate it,” he says. “It can be something as small as a vacuum cleaner or something as large as the biggest mining equipment.”
Semi-rags to semi-riches
From the vantage point of 2015, with its new bankroll and potential Fortune 500 customers, life looks good for the Clearpath crew. Much better than back in 2009, when he and fellow Waterloo mechatronic engineering graduates CTO Ryan Gariepy, Patrick Martinson, and Bryan Webb first opened for business. Remember that 2009 was deep into the Great Recession and not the most opportune time to finance a new business.
Dissatisfied with their intern jobs while attending Waterloo, and not seeing any real job prospects in town after graduation, the four friends decided to jump off on their own and to launch Clearpath.
Rendell feels that robotics has come a long way since then. Although he and his pals have quickly raised the recent $11 million in VC money, Rendall admits that investors weren’t always “hot for bots”.
“They treated us like we had the plague,” he told the Dispatch. Private investors he approached were unwilling to back a hardware company, especially one involving robots. We really had to focus.
“We raised $365,000 from angels to fulfill a purchase order, and then became profitable in eighteen months.”
Times have certainly changed: last year Clearpath doubled its revenue and now employs eighty-five staff. An additional fifty staff will be added, about half of which will be engineers. With this round of financing RRE co-founder and managing partner Stuart Ellman will join the Clearpath board.
The Globe and Mail reports that Ellman sees Clearpath’s future as being the dominant operating system for robots.
“You can’t just develop robot software right now, software is integrated with hardware, you have to sell a full stack,” he says. For Clearpath co-founder Gariepy the landscape around Kitchener looks bright and full of promise: “We’ve seen a lot of potential for robotics to bring more–to really change the way people work–and with this funding we’re now able to accelerate how we can get that stuff done.”