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Wilmington robotics maker going public in $5.5 billion SPAC deal

Symbotic’s customers include Walmart and Albertsons.

Wilmington-based Symbotic's automated warehouse system.Symbotic

Walmart-backed warehouse robotics maker Symbotic is going public in a deal that will value the Wilmington startup at $5.5 billion.

Symbotic said on Monday that it planned to merge with SVF Investment Corp. 3, a blank check company sponsored by Japanese investing giant SoftBank. The deal will raise $725 million in additional backing for Symbotic and is expected to close in the first half of 2022. Symbotic plans to trade on the Nasdaq with the symbol “SYM.”

The deal is the latest among Boston tech companies seeking to avoid a traditional initial public offering and use the speedier route to list on a stock exchange via merging with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. Last week, Boston weather tech company Tomorrow.io announced a $1.2 billion SPAC deal, and in October, wireless Internet service Starry said it planned a SPAC merger valued at $1.66 billion. Both deals are still pending, as is financial tech startup Circle’s $4.5 billion deal announced in July.

Symbotic’s robots are used by customers such as Walmart and Albertsons to move items around in warehouses and retail storage areas. Its robotic arms controlled by artificial intelligence software can unload and sort items onto robotic shuttles that move items around a facility.

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“We have successfully invented and developed a truly disruptive solution that reimagines the traditional warehouse from the ground up,” Symbotic chief executive Rick Cohen said in a statement.

Cohen is also executive chairman and owner of New Hampshire’s C&S Wholesale Grocers, one of the nation’s largest privately held businesses and one of Symbotic’s largest customers.

The robotics company expects to have revenue of $211 million this year, more than double the $92 million it brought in last year, according to an investor presentation.

The link to the grocery industry has been a key strength for Symbotic, according to Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor Michael Gennert.

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“They understand all the ins and outs of the grocery warehouse supply chain,” said Gennert, who has been working in robotics for more than three decades. “They know the problem, they know what a great solution looks like, and they went out and built it.”

Walmart, the mega-retailer based in Arkansas, was an earlier investor in Symbotic and will put in another $150 million as part of the SPAC transaction. After the SPAC merger is complete, Walmart will own 9 percent of Symbotic. Cohen will own 76 percent of the company.

Symbotic is part of a growing ecosystem of local warehouse robotics companies, including Amazon Robotics, 6 River Systems, Locus Robotics, Vecna Robotics, and Berkshire Grey. Waltham-based Boston Dynamics unveiled its first entry in the market, a truck-unloading bot called Stretch, earlier this year.

The growth of e-commerce during the pandemic, combined with a shortage of warehouse workers, has generated huge demand for warehouse and logistics automation — technologies that Boston-area companies are well-placed to provide, said Tom Ryden, executive director of nonprofit industry group MassRobotics in Boston.

“That market is huge and I think it will continue to be one of the leading success stories of robotics,” he said. “We’re just at the start of it.”


Aaron Pressman can be reached at aaron.pressman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ampressman.