CVCA Awards

Inovia Capital, on Behalf of a Syndicate, Wins VC Regional Impact Award, Central Canada, for Clearpath Robotics

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Founded in 2009 by four University of Waterloo graduates, Clearpath Robotics was initially conceived with the intent of building robots capable of clearing a path in places where it was unsafe or dangerous for people to work. Ultimately, the founders’ vision was for their fledgling company to become the global leader in mobile robots.

A chance encounter a few years later wound up being a particularly important moment in the company’s journey. Clearpath CEO Matt Rendall met Karamdeep Nijjar, Inovia Capital Partner, at an Extreme Startups Demo Day pre-party. It’s one of the most memorable first meetings I’ve ever had with a founder,” says Nijjar Although he was a very young guy, I was struck by Matt’s maturity and how he described the company he was building. You would have thought I was talking to a serial entrepreneur.”

At the time, Rendall and his co-founders weren’t looking to raise capital. When they eventually decided to raise a seed round, the Inovia team initially passed. We spent a lot of time with the company as they were making the transition from a robotics services business to a product-oriented organization,” recalls Nijjar. Back then, they hadn’t really dug into anything on the commercial front and we were a bit uncomfortable with the risk level. After the round closed, I immediately regretted the decision.”

When Clearpath went on to raise its Series A round not long after, Inovia made sure to invest. Over the years, the company worked with a consortium of investors, including Garage Capital, Kensington Capital Partners, Export Development Canada (EDC), BMO Capital Partners, and McRock Capital who believed in the company and were ready to support its growth. 

EDC, a Crown corporation dedicated to providing Canadian companies with the tools they need to succeed in export, invested in Clearpath recognizing their innovative thinking, robotic leadership and early international growth. When we engaged with Clearpath, they had already demonstrated their ingenuity in developing advanced mobile robotic technology that was clearly making a difference for their customers in ways that really mattered,” said Guillermo Freire, Senior Vice-President, Mid-Market Group. We knew almost immediately we wanted to be a part of their global growth and help them succeed on the world stage.” 

Meanwhile, Kensington Capital Partners recruited top executive talent in Carolyn McGoey Garvey and Don Leslie, who were instrumental in helping the company scale up. Over time, and with the help of all its investors, the company successfully commercialized one of the world’s first platforms to support robotics research, becoming a leader in unmanned vehicle robotics for R&D. Today it also provides hardware, software, and services to enable the deployment and operation of mobile robotics products.

In 2015, Clearpath began shifting from custom-built, sector-agnostic robotics sold primarily to R&D teams, to productized software and Automated Mobile robot (AMR) Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) sold without modification in the material handling space. The company subsequently expanded its product portfolio to include a material-handling offering through its OTTO Motors division, which became a global leader in autonomous technology for material handling inside manufacturing and warehouse facilities. 

Clearpath’s vision has consistently been to use robotic automation and self-driving machine intelligence to relieve the burden of material movement in manufacturing facilities and warehouses, enabling workforces to focus on higher-value activities,” says Nijjar. The company has built an operation that employs around 350 people who help create safer and more efficient work environments. And their technology, which includes AI navigation software and robotics, automates movement-based tasks in factories, warehouses, and operational sites.” 

By 2023, Clearpath had become a desirable acquisition target and was ultimately sold to Rockwell Automation for US$600 million. It was a great exit and one of the largest ever for materials handling and robotics,” says Nijjar. 

Inovia was awarded the VC Regional Impact Award, Central Canada, on behalf of a syndicate of investors composed of Garage Capital, Kensington Capital Partners, EDC, BMO Capital Partners, and McRock Capital for their work helping drive Clearpath to its exit. We may be the ones accepting this award, but it was definitely a team effort,” says Nijjar. It was the result of the hard work of everyone at Clearpath as well as the company’s outstanding investor base.”

The exit was also a clear win for the Kitchener-Waterloo area, where Clearpath had become an employer of choice nationally for graduating engineers and software developers. Its strong foothold in the region means that even post-acquisition, the area will remain a prominent robotics cluster with continued employment under the Rockwell banner,” says Brien-Wright noting the company’s particular importance within Central Canada.