The last-mile robot delivery startup founded in Colombia also has big plans for Miami HQ expansion
By Riley Kaminer and Nancy Dahlberg
If you live, work, or study on a college campus, watch where you walk! Very soon, you might come across an exponentially expanding fleet of last-mile delivery robots from one rapidly scaling Miami tech company.
Kiwibot, the Colombian robotic delivery service startup that began establishing its new headquarters in Miami last year, has just raised a $7.5 million pre-Series A round from five investors including Headline, House of Lithium, and Sodexo. Overall, the startup has raised approximately $14 million.
On top of this fundraising announcement, Kiwibot has also closed a $20 million contract with Sodexo, a French food services and facilities management company. In collaboration with Sodexo, Kiwibot will expand its fleet of delivery robots by 1,200 across 50 US college campuses by the end of 2022.
The partnership with Sodexo will enable college students to have food from their meal plan delivered by Kiwibot’s robots. (Just when you thought on-campus dining could not get any more luxurious!) This aligns with some missions Sodexo outlines on its website: leading with technology, exceeding the expectations of Gen Z’s foodie culture, and prioritizing the health and safety of everyone on campus.
Putting the robots to work
Currently, Kiwibot has 200 robots active on 10 campuses including New Mexico State University, Loyola Marymount University, and Gonzaga University, on top of a few locations in Washington, D.C. The goal is expanding to 50 campuses by the end of the year.
“We have been intensely working in the robotic food delivery field for the last five years, and this funding will allow us to expand the business at the speed that the market is demanding,” Kiwibot’s co-founder and CEO, Felipe Chávez Cortés, said in a statement.
“We are set to build the most advanced robot delivery fleet — building 100 robots a month, expanding to exciting locations, and connecting with new partners, universities, and cities to advance safe and equitable mobility with zero-emission solutions,” Cortés added.
Miami Beach-based serial investor and chairman of House of Lithium Andy DeFrancesco agreed. “[Kiwibot] has a rockstar team, cutting edge technology, and an amazing partner in Sodexo. Kiwibot will revolutionize the last-mile delivery business,” the self-proclaimed “controversial investor” commented.
Joseph Huang, a partner at Headline, signaled Kiwibot’s international expansion: “As Kiwibot has both cash and contracts in hand, we really appreciate being chosen to help them negotiate with manufacturers, speed up the manufacturing process for the next Kiwibot generation, and open up Asia’s markets for the robots.”
Kiwibot claims that its autonomous devices are “smarter than any robot in the world,” leveraging LiDAR and advanced sensors to effectively deliver products with zero carbon emissions. Last year, their robots won a prestigious iF Design Award. Maybe it had something to do with the disarming glance its robots give each passerby, thanks to their digitally-displayed eyes.
Founded in 2017, Kiwibot launched its first pilot at University of California-Berkeley. So far, they have made over 200,000 deliveries, providing customers with a low-cost, last-mile delivery system. While Kiwibot focuses on food delivery, they have also helped grant equitable access to food, medication, and libraries.
Public purpose is at the core of Kiwibot’s activities. While making deliveries, the robots can map areas and collect infrastructure data for local authorities.
Miami could soon be Robot Central
While Kiwibot robots are not roaming South Florida college campuses yet, there are up to 200 robots in Miami at any one time, some fully operational and working in pilot tests and activations in South Florida and others being readied to be deployed to campuses in the US. Several robots have been mapping and scouting in the Brickell area, sometimes stopping for selfies. Except for one time when “some bad guys” tried to take a robot hostage, the Miami experience has been very good, said Natalia Gutierrez, executive manager at Kiwibot, in a phone interview from Dubai, where Kiwibot is planning to open an office this summer.
Through a partnership with the Knight Foundation, the robots have been doing community service in Miami’s Little Havana, delivering food from local restaurants and engaging with the residents. Last week the company also started a pilot with a restaurant in Wynwood. One problem: The hipster haven is so crowded that Kiwibot is experimenting with different times for the robot’s work. ”It is not the place to be for the robots,” Gutierrez said.
The human Kiwibot team in Miami is small – four to five people that support the shipping and maintenance of the robots – but it’s poised to grow. Now the robots are shipped to Miami from Colombia before being sent to the college campuses, but Kiwibot is looking to open warehouse space in Miami’s Free Trade Zone, where the robots could be shipped to Asia and parts from Taiwan or China could be brought in for assembly, said Gutierrez.
That’s not all. An engineering group could be in the Miami plans as the company builds out its headquarters, Gutierrez said. “We have been talking with FIU because we would like to have a research and development team in Miami.”
Photo at top of post shows, from left, Natalia Pinilla (Head of Manufacture), Felipe Chávez Cortés (CEO), Sergio Pachón (President). Photos provided by Kiwibot.
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