June 17, 2024

Botinkit kitchen robot raises $13M from DJI angels and others

Having worked in the food industry for several years, Shirley Chen has seen firsthand the challenges of staff management and training for restaurant expansion. So when she met her future co-founders, she saw an opportunity to leverage her expertise in chemistry and electrical and electronic engineering, along with her own food and beverage background, to start a robotics company that could automate and standardize cooking for chain restaurants.

In 2021, Chen co-founded Botinkit in Shenzhen and soon brought the startup’s cooking robots beyond its home base to markets including Japan and the U.S. Behind its steady expansion, Botinkit announced today that it has raised $13 million in a Series A round that will be used in part to expand in the Middle East and Europe next year.

Forebright led the round, with investors including 5Y Capital and Brizan Venture participating. With this latest financial injection, Botinkit has raised nearly $20 million to date.

He is perhaps the most notable investor from the round Zexiang Li, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology known for his angel investment in drone giant DJI. HKUST, where Chen studied, has emerged as a hub for hardware innovation, with students turning their academic research into commercial ideas.

Meanwhile, Li and his investment partner Gao Bingqiang, also a HKUST professor, are supporting their students with funding and other resources. Gao is also an investor in Botinkit.

Scaling restaurants with robots

While Botinkit sees California-based Miso Robotics as a potential competitor, the companies are contributing different culinary skill sets.

Miso’s burger robots helped him ink deals with chain giants like Jack in the Box and White Castle. Botinkit’s wok-shaped robot, meanwhile, specializes in stir-frying and stewing and includes an add-on arm that humans can take over by adding ingredients. The company is currently developing the deep fryer model, which is due to start next year.

Automation, says Botinkit, helps reduce ingredient loss by 30% and energy by 40% compared to commercial gas stoves. But another key selling point for his robots is their ability to facilitate cross-regional expansion of restaurants, Chen said in an interview with TechCrunch.

One of the biggest hurdles restaurants face when expanding is finding and training a large number of staff, which can slow down their growth. Even if they succeed in recruiting sufficient personnel, it may be challenging in new markets to maintain consistent quality control.

A typical 100 square meter kitchen requires six to ten staff members, according to Chen, but with Botinkit robots, that number can be cut to one or two. This means that a franchise restaurant with 500 locations could reduce the kitchen staff from 5,000 to hundreds.

“Art used to be constrained by time and geographical boundaries,” suggested Chen. “However, with the digitization of cooking, a range of new possibilities emerge, including remote cooking. Suppose I’m in Shenzhen and you’re in the US, I can use our software and hardware system to ‘cook’ for you remotely. It’s a very exciting prospect.”

Botinkit’s current robots come with temperature sensors, but the startup is allocating some of its new funding toward developing multimodal sensors that can also detect tastes and smells. The ultimate goal, Chen said, is to leverage artificial general intelligence, or AGI, so that its robots can understand human preferences and refine cooking processes based on data feedback.

While most of Botinkit’s revenue comes from selling hardware, the company has started generating revenue by creating custom recipes for its clients through its global network of partner chefs. His clients include fast food chains and hotels to catering services and supermarkets. In China, its robots are cooking at food stalls inside Walmart and Delibowl.

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