Bossa Nova Robotics, the Mountain View, Calif.-based developer of inventory control robots for retailers, recently shut down its European business unit. Headquartered in Sheffield, U.K., Bossa Nova Robotics Europe had its funding cut off from the parent company. Bossa Nova Robotics Europe is in the Administration phase, the UK’s equivalent to Chapter 11.
In November 2020, Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, abruptly ended its partnership with Bossa Nova Robotics. This was a significant reversal from plans announced in January 2020 to expand deployments of Bossa Nova’s robots from 500 to 1,000 stores. Walmart said it had “found different, sometimes simpler solutions that proved just as useful.” According to The Wall Street Journal, this forced Bossa Nova Robotics to reduce its workforce by 50%.
According to this “Notice of Administrator’s Proposals” (PDF) obtained by The Robot Report, the fallout with Walmart and COVID-19 played a major role in the closing of European division. After late-stage pilots with “several major UK retailers” and “advanced discussions with a major retailer to begin multi-store trials,” the European unit had its financial agreement with the parent company renewed in February 2020 for another two years.
Then COVID-19 hit. Here are some details from the Administrator’s Proposal:
“By the end of February 2020, the COVID-19 [crisis] was rapidly developing and ultimately classified as a global pandemic. The pandemic had an immediate impact on the retail industry with many retails seeing changes in demand and having to adapt to government imposed restrictions, as a result, many USA customers withdrew their orders. With uncertain trading conditions and a significant decline in demand, the [parent company] made the decision [to] cease all funding with immediate effect, accordingly, [Bossa Nova Robotics Europe’s] new finance agreement was withdrawn.”
The European operation continued with a reduced workforce over the next six months. But with mounting debt being owed to creditors and no turnaround in sight, it was determined the business was no longer sustainable. According to the Notice of Administrator’s Proposals, it lost £1,036,147 for the year ended 31 December 2019 and £466,705 for the 7-month period ended 31 December 2018. The 10 employees working at the UK office were eliminated.
According to the Notice of Administrator’s Proposals, one of three objectives is to be carried out if a company enters administration:
- Rescuing the company
- Achieving a better financial outcome for creditor’s than would have been possible without entering administration
- Distributing property and assets to one or more creditors
According to the document, the only possible objective in this case is to distribute the remaining assets to creditors. This is due in part to the “extent of historic liabilities.” Bossa Nova Robotics Europe was incorporated on May 23 2018. The UK office opened in October 2018.
The Robot Report reached out to Red Mckay, who was managing director, Europe, of Bossa Nova Robotics from April 2018 until November 2020. The Robot Report also reached out to Sarjoun Skaff, CEO of parent company Bossa Nova Robotics. Neither have responded, but this story will be updated if new information becomes available.
Brad Bogolea, co-founder and CEO of Simbe Robotics, a competitor of Bossa Nova, was a recent guest on The Robot Report Podcast. The discussion analyzes the abrupt ending of Bossa Nova’s relationship with Walmart and discusses the future prospects for robotics in retail. Brad also shared what lessons the Walmart partnership provides for robotics developers and startups. You can listen to the podcast below.