One of the biggest financial forces backing logistics startups and new technologies in recent years is making waves again, as Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp. said today it has helped raise $240 million in venture capital for Forto GmbH, a German company providing digitized freight forwarding and supply chain solutions.
The round was led by SoftBank Vision Fund 21, with participation from Citi Ventures and G Squared, and further backing from existing investors including Northzone, Inven Capital, Cherry Ventures, and Unbound. It helped to push Forto's corporate valuation to $1.2 billion, which crosses the threshold of making the Berlin-based firm a “unicorn,” the term for venture-backed startups that are worth at least $1 billion.
Five-year-old Forto says it uses its digital platform to simplify interactions, remove process friction, and increase supply chain visibility for a new generation of disruptive logistics companies. With its new backing, Forto plans to expand its geographical footprint, technology platform, and customer operations, and to “cement our market leadership in Europe and beyond,” company CEO and Co-Founder Michael Wax said in a release.
That approach dovetails with SoftBank’s previous investments in the logistics sector, which have focused on technology providers for telecommunications, internet services, artificial intelligence (AI), smart robotics, internet of things (IoT), and clean energy.
For example, also today, SoftBank closed a previously announced deal to sell 80% of its ownership stake in the Massachusetts-based robotics vendor Boston Dynamics to automotive giant Hyundai Motor Group for $880 million. Softbank will retain a 20% share of the robot maker, which is best known for its dog-shaped “Spot” model and “Pick” and “Handle” designs for warehouse tasks.
SoftBank also sent ripples through the sector in April when it bought a 40% stake of the Norwegian automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) vendor AutoStore for an eye-popping $2.8 billion, citing its product as “a foundational technology that enables rapid and cost-effective logistics for companies around the globe.”
With its latest backing of Forto, SoftBank seems poised to continue its track record of placing its bets on certain horses in the race to digitalize supply chain operations worldwide.
"Logistics is the backbone of global commerce, and data analytics, machine learning, and process automation will reshape the global delivery of goods and services," Karol Niewiadomski, senior investor for SoftBank Investment Advisers, said in a release. "Forto's centralized platform leverages these technologies to boost operational efficiency, lower handling costs, and increase transparency for their customers.”