Social robot maker Jibo has sold its IP assets. According to a former Jibo executive with direct knowledge of the situation, New York-based investment management firm SQN Venture Partners is the new owner. The Robot Report has reached out to SQN Ventures Partners multiple times, but there has been no response.
A listing of Jibo’s patents and legal events includes a security interest transaction between Jibo and the SQN Venture Income Fund on June 20, 2018. In legalese, a “security interest is a legal right granted by a debtor to a creditor over the debtor’s property (usually referred to as the collateral) which enables the creditor to have recourse to the property if the debtor defaults in making payment or otherwise performing the secured obligations.” SQN was the creditor or secured lender in this situation and acquired the assets, according to the source. SQN Ventures has a portfolio page on its website for Jibo, but the page is blank.
Jibo also filed a Foreign Certificate of Withdrawal (view it here) with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Jibo was a Massachusetts-based company that was incorporated in Delaware. By filing the form, Jibo acknowledges it “is not transacting business in the commonwealth” and “surrenders its authority to transact business in the commonwealth.”
The form was submitted by the Kallander Group, a Hudson, MA-based company that in part “specializes in comprehensive trust services for corporate restructuring and dissolution.” Barry Kallander, founder of the Kallander Group, was the last president of Jibo. He told The Robot Report that the Foreign Certificate of Withdrawal was filed because “we sold the assets of the company.” Due to confidentiality reasons, he did not confirm what company acquired the assets.
According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, “when you close your business you must cancel your registration with both the federal government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” The Foreign Certificate of Withdrawal was submitted on November 6, 2018 and approved on November 14. A business listing for “Jibo, Inc” on the website for the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts also lists a withdrawal date of November 14.
Jibo customers might be wondering what, if anything, is next for the social robot. According to a quote from an unnamed venture capitalist listed on the Kallander Group website, it does not look promising. “Once Kallander Group is engaged, we can focus on our upside companies! They handle the myriad issues associated with underperforming portfolio companies that are unlikely to provide a return to our LPs.”
But, according to a source who wished to remain anonymous, the “thousands of Jibo robots are still functioning in the field with full services.”
Founded in 2012, Jibo raised nearly $73 million in venture capital after raising more than $3.5 million through a 2014 Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. The company billed Jibo as the first social robot for the home and said the prodcut would usher in a new age of social robotics. However, problems quickly arose.
The first indication of problems was a series of delayed shipments, which forced Indiegogo to offer full refunds for unfulfilled orders. In September 2017, Jibo started shipping its first units and opened sales to the general public in October 2017 with a price tag of $899.
Another major issue came in mid-2016 when Jibo cancelled overseas orders due to localization issues. At the time, Jibo said it would only ship robots to customers in the US and Canada. “After exploring all the options, we have come to the conclusion that we will not be able to deliver Jibo to your country” because the robot “won’t function up to our standards in your country.”
And perhaps the biggest issue, Amazon, Google and others introduced cheaper, more advanced smart speakers for a fraction of Jibo’s price. The social robotics market is expected to exceed US $500 million dollars by 2023, driven largely by the growing demands of an aging-in-place sector that is expected to reach 98 million people by 2060 in the USA alone.
Jibo is among a handful of robotics companies that closed in 2018. Fellow social robotics maker Mayfield Robotics shut down in August as backer Bosch could not find a fit to support and scale the business. In September, drone startup Airware shut down after running through $118 million in funding. Airware, which was developing a drone operating system, ran out of money after trying to manufacture its own hardware.
And, of course, Rethink Robotics shut down in October. The Robot Report spoke to a dozen former Rethink distributors and integrators who chalked it up to Rethink’s robots not being able to perform as advertised in industrial environments. Less than one month after it shut down, Rethink’s IP was acquired by German automation specialist the HAHN Group.
In a savvy move, Softbank is widening its scope of robotic applications with the introduction of Whizz, an autonomous floor cleaner powered by Brain Corp.’s autonomous navigation expertise. Softbank received some humbling feedback about its Pepper humanoid robot, which according to a recent Nikkei Tech was only being renewed by 15% of customers.
Update: This article was updated at 2:30 PM with information about the operational status of Jibo robots.