WHILL raises $45M to help people with disabilities get around airports and other large venues

WHILL, the startup known for creating sleek, high-tech personal mobility devices, announced today that it has closed a $45 million Series C. The funding will be used for expanding into new international markets, as well as developing new products for large venues, including airports and “last-mile” sidewalk transportation. The round’s lead investors were SBI Investment, […]

WHILL, the startup known for creating sleek, high-tech personal mobility devices, announced today that it has closed a $45 million Series C. The funding will be used for expanding into new international markets, as well as developing new products for large venues, including airports and “last-mile” sidewalk transportation. The round’s lead investors were SBI Investment, Daiwa Securities Group and WHIZ Partners, with participation from returning investors INCJ, Eight Road Ventures, MSIVC, Nippon Venture Capital, DG Incubation and Mizuho Capital.

This brings WHILL’s total funding so far to about $80 million. Founded in Tokyo in 2012, WHILL plans to open a branch in the European Union and enter 10 new European countries. It also plans to start working with partners on developing autonomous capabilities for its mobility devices, senior marketing manager Jeff Yoshioka told TechCrunch. The company will build its own sensors and cameras to use in its “mobility as a service” program, which allows users to control vehicles and call customer service through a mobile app.

One of WHILL’s biggest projects is developing an autonomous personal mobility device system for airports. Yoshioka says that an estimated 20 million people request wheelchairs in U.S. airports each year. This means they need to wait for an airline employee to bring a wheelchair to them and then push them from check-in to their gates. At the same time, it doesn’t give users a lot of flexibility.

The system that WHILL has in mind, on the other hand, would allow individuals to use an app to summon a mobility device over to them. Then they can go wherever they want — coffee shops, restrooms, shops — before heading to the gate without an assistant. Once they are done with the device, it will return to a docking station on its own. WHILL has already begun testing a similar program at Tokyo International Airport in partnership with Panasonic.

Yoshioka says WHILL will most likely pursue distribution partnerships with U.S. airlines, which are responsible for supplying and maintaining the wheelchair systems in American airports, and airports to build the necessary infrastructure.

Along with airports, WHILL wants to bring its technology to other large venues, including shopping malls and sports arenas, as well as create a system for last-mile transportation. Yoshioka notes that “there are already a lot of companies out there like LimeBike and MoBike that offer bikes and electric scooters, but there’s nothing out there for people with disabilities who can’t use those devices.”

Instead, many rely on Ubers or public transportation even for short distances. Like the airport system, WHILL’s last-mile sidewalk system will use autonomous electric vehicles that can be called to users with an app. It faces unique challenges, however, because WHILL’s devices are larger and more expensive than bikes or electric scooters, so the company needs to find safe places to dock them that are still accessible to people with limited mobility. Yoshioka says WHILL likely will focus on partnering with commercial properties to create indoor docking stations.

WHILL’s largest market is still Japan, where it has between 4,000 to 5,000 resellers. In its home market, WHILL’s devices are subsidized by the government and also available for rent. In the U.S., however, many customers need to purchase devices out-of-pocket. To make their products more accessible, WHILL launched the less expensive Model Ci (called the Model C in Europe and Japan) earlier this year. While there is still plenty of room for innovation in the wheelchair market, the Model Ci and other WHILL products compete with devices like the iBot, which can climb stairs, and the Trackchair, designed for off-road use. WHILL’s current products can’t climb stairs, but they do have the advantage of being designed for both indoor and outdoor use, giving users more flexibility, says Yoshioka.

The company also expects demand for its products to grow thanks to a rapidly aging world population, citing statistics that show there are expected to be more than 2.1 billion people over the age of 60 by 2050, up from about 900 million last year.

“We don’t necessarily see [the other companies] as direct competitors. They definitely do impact sales, because people might want something that climbs stairs instead of having better outdoor capabilities, but I think overall it’s very beneficial for the industry,” Yoshioka adds. “As a company that’s trying to disrupt the industry, it’s nice to have them around because it pushes the industry forward and opens eyes for other manufacturers.”

Walmart to acquire Mexico & Chile-focused grocery delivery service Cornershop for $225M

Walmart is ramping up its grocery delivery business on the international stage with today’s announcement that it has acquired the crowdsourced, on-demand delivery marketplace Cornershop for $225 million. The rapidly growing service offers on-demand delivery from supermarkets, pharmacies and specialty food retailers in Mexico and Chile, which will continue following the deal’s close, Walmart says. […]

Walmart is ramping up its grocery delivery business on the international stage with today’s announcement that it has acquired the crowdsourced, on-demand delivery marketplace Cornershop for $225 million. The rapidly growing service offers on-demand delivery from supermarkets, pharmacies and specialty food retailers in Mexico and Chile, which will continue following the deal’s close, Walmart says.

Founded in 2015, Cornershop last year raised $21 million in a round led by Accel, according to Crunchbase, in order to expand its service in Latin America. At the time, CEO Oskar Hjertonsson credited Instacart’s success in the U.S. as inspiring enthusiasm for grocery delivery in other international markets, as well, saying ” I think Instacart can build a profitable business in the US, as can we down here.”

To date, it has raised $31.7 million, Crunchbase says. Other investors include ALLVP, Creandum, NMT Network, Jackson Square Ventures, and Endeavour Catalyst.

Similar to Instacart, Cornershop works with contractors who visit the stores to shop then deliver customers’ orders. However, it also lets you order from several stores – like grocers, speciality wine or meat shops, and others – in one order.

The service has been expanding its reach a fast pace, Walmart’s announcement points out. Over the past 12 months, it has seen the number of unique customers double.

Cornershop’s three founders, including CEO Oskar Hjertonsson; COO Daniel Undurraga, and CTO Juan Pablo Cuevas, and their teams, will continue to run the business following Walmart’s acquisition.

“We are focused on making life easier for customers and associates by building strong local businesses, powered by Walmart,” said Judith McKenna, president and CEO of Walmart International, in a statement.

“Cornershop’s digital expertise, technology and capabilities will strengthen our successful businesses in Mexico and Chile and provide learning for other markets in which we operate. This is an opportunity to leverage both of our brands, as well as Walmart’s strong supply chain and store network. Combining Cornershop’s innovative, crowdsourced delivery platform with Walmart’s unique assets will allow us to accelerate growth for both companies, delighting our customers by saving them both time and money. We are excited to welcome Cornershop to the Walmart family,” she added.

The acquisition is one of several investments Walmart has made in order to compete on grocery delivery in international markets.

The retailer just last month announced it co-led a $500 million investment in Chinese online grocery service Dada-JD Daojia, which is part-owned by JD. And in January, Walmart partnered with Rakuten on a wide-ranging partnership that includes grocery delivery in Japan as well as the sale of Rakuten e-readers, e-books and audiobooks in the U.S.

Walmart’s top rival Amazon has also been focused on international expansions of its grocery delivery business, with launches in markets like London, Berlin and Tokyo, for example. It’s also aiming to bring its online shop to more countries through international versions of its site, as well as acquisitions of its own. Last year, Amazon bought SOUQ to go after the Middle East, and today it says SOUQ shoppers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can now shop over 1 million products from Amazon’s Global Store.

Walmart says the Cornershop acquisition will be subject to regulatory approval and is expected by the end of the year.