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SoftBank Leads $200 Million Investment In Semiconductor Startup, Boosts Logistics Chip Space

By News Creatives Authors , in Billionaires , at July 30, 2021

A $200 million funding round led by Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank gave a little-known California-based semiconductor startup a boost in the nascent logistics chip space.

SoftBank Group’s Vision Fund 2 led the investment in Wiliot, a four-year-old startup with presence in Australia, Germany, Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine. Previous investors include Amazon Web Services and the venture capital arms of Samsung and Japanese mobile carrier NTT Docomo.

SoftBank’s investment marks a boost for Wiliot, says Mario Morales, group vice president of enabling technologies and semiconductors at market research firm IDC. “Most of these guys have gotten not as much funding as this one,” he notes. “Most of them are running out of money.”

Wiliot, whose stamp-sized chips are designed to allow object identification on a mass scale, could benefit from cross-pollination with the Vision Fund portfolio’s e-commerce and logistics companies, analysts say.

“Vision Fund is spraying billions of dollars on tech firms, and the flow of cash appears almost limitless,” says Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics. “Wiliot could potentially work with other Vision Fund investments such as Coupang or Flipkart for leaner e-commerce logistics.”

SoftBank invests in a range of technology companies around the world. Recent deals include investments in the logistics and warehouse robotics sectors. For example, its Vision Fund invested in JD Logistics’ $3.2 billion Hong Kong initial public offerin in May and SoftBank has placed $2.8 billion for a 40% stake in AutoStore, a Norwegian company that specializes in warehouse automation technology for e-commerce.

Wiliot’s encrypted and cloud-enabled chips connect products that move through global supply chains in crates, packaging and on pallets. The startup has raised a total of $270 million in venture capital over time and the latest round was over subscribed, says Stephen Statler, a senior vice president at Wiliot. “We’ve seen a consistent level of interest between financial and strategic investors in what we do,” he says.

Attention to autonomous warehouses, robotics and “smart” retail raise interest in object-finder tech, Statler adds. “One of the basics is to have a real-time view of inventory so when (a customer) does show up, you’re not constantly searching for what you want,” he says.

Wiliot belongs to a small high-tech sub-industry that designs chips for object identification akin to QR coding and RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags, says Morales. The global market for this space spans just 10 startups worth a few tens of millions of dollars, he says.

Over five years, Morales forecasts the space will grow to around $2 billion, but led by half the number of companies that are active now. “The logistics chip industry could eventually be measured in the trillions of units, as every product or thing can potentially be tagged with a battery-less, wireless tracker for real-time inventory management of the demand chain,” he says.


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