Made in Emerging Europe

The Estonian delivery robots set to take over the world

Investors continue to back Starship Technologies’ global ambition to revolutionise last-mile delivery.

It’s fair to say that Estonians are proud of their country’s reputation as a unicorn factory, home to more successful tech start-ups per capita than any other country in Europe. Rarely will a conversation pass without the names of at least a few Estonian-founded tech giants, from Skype to Bolt, Wise to Pipedrive, being casually dropped. 

Few Estonian start-ups however evoke more affection than Starship Technologies, which since 2014 has been developing autonomous delivery robots that are a feature of Tallinn’s streets and can also be spotted in several other places around the world—notably university campuses in the US. 

“When the snow is deep, they can sometimes get stuck. But people have made a habit of helping them on their way,” says Liisa, a student at TalTech, Tallinn’s University of Technology and alma mater of many of its most successful start-up founders and engineers. “They’re like pets.”

A pet but not yet a unicorn, Starship Technologies took a step towards becoming Estonia’s next tech giant this week when it raised 90 million US dollars in a new funding round co-led by Tallinn-based Plural and Iconical.  

The new funding, which brings the total raised by Starship to 230 million US dollars, will be used to expand globally as the firm looks to take advantage of the unstoppable rise in demand for home deliveries. Companies including Bolt, Co-Op, Aramark, Sodexo, Chartwells and Grubhub already rely on Starship’s robots to reach customers, and the firm says that it is now the world’s leading autonomous delivery service, making more than six million deliveries and transforming last-mile delivery. 

Not science fiction 

“Autonomous delivery isn’t some science fiction concept from Bladerunner for decades in the future, it’s a reality for hundreds of thousands of people every day,” says Ahti Heinla, Starship’s co-founder and CEO and—like so many Estonian entrepreneurs—a former Skype engineer. 

“Building a company like Starship takes at least a decade of perfecting the technology, streamlining operations and reducing costs to make last-mile autonomous delivery viable and sustainable at scale. Now we’re ready to take on the world and with ambitions to build a category-dominating company that can change the daily lives of millions of people in thousands of locations worldwide.” 

Last-mile and on-demand delivery, the most costly and carbon-intensive aspect of the supply chain, has been a stumbling block for logistics businesses across the world, yet demand is growing for rapid deliveries of food and other goods.  

The online food delivery market in particular is expected to more than double by 2030, whilst the carbon emissions from last-mile delivery in Europe alone are expected to reach 5.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2032, the equivalent to 1.2 million gas-powered cars. Starship says it has created the most cost-effective, ethical and sustainable way to deliver goods directly to a customer over a short distance, solving the last-mile delivery industry’s major challenges.  

Built in emerging Europe 

Investors appear to agree. Taavet Hinrikus, a co-founder of payments giant Wise, a partner at Plural and himself a former Skyper says that Starship is the global leader in autonomous technology, and that it is “built in Europe”. 

“For the past 10 years, the team have been working tirelessly to build the most advanced autonomous logistics technology in the world, driving more miles and making more deliveries than any other company, whilst reducing the impact of last-mile and on-demand delivery on the planet,” he says.  

“The culmination of this hard work over the past decade and this new funding means Starship is well-positioned for accelerated growth. We’re looking forward to supporting Ahti and the team on this journey to becoming one of Europe’s most successful global companies.”  

And, quite possibly, Estonia’s next unicorn. 

Photo: Starship Technologies

Unlike many news and information platforms, Emerging Europe is free to read, and always will be. There is no paywall here. We are independent, not affiliated with nor representing any political party or business organisation. We want the very best for emerging Europe, nothing more, nothing less. Your support will help us continue to spread the word about this amazing region.

You can contribute here. Thank you.

emerging europe support independent journalism