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The next Aussie unicorn? Advanced Navigation gears up for global growth after $20 million raise

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

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Advanced Navigation co-founders Chris Shaw and Xavier Orr. Source: supplied.

Having bagged international clients like Boeing, Tesla and NASA, and secured $20 million in Series A funding, navigational AI startup Advanced Navigation now has eyes on achieving unicorn status within the next three years.

Founded in 2012 by Xavier Orr and Chris Shaw, Advanced Navigation provides deep tech for navigation based on artificial intelligence neural-networks, with applications in underwater acoustics, GPS, radio frequency systems and robotics

The Series A round was led by Main Sequence Ventures, as well as US venture capital firms Brick & Mortar Ventures and In-Q-Tel.

The startup was formed out of Orr’s university research. He did his thesis on the application of neural networking AI to navigation, and started to develop the technology that would become Advanced Navigation.

In 2012, he met co-founder Chris Shaw, who had been working on sensor technology, and the pair put their heads together to launch the startup.

“I saw a massive gap in the navigation market, where everything was based on an algorithm that hadn’t really been changed since 1967,” Orr says.

“There was a massive opportunity to disrupt that market.”

Seven years on, Advanced Navigation is a supplier to the likes of Boeing, Airbus, Tesla and NASA.

While Orr doesn’t reveal any revenue figures, he does say the startup has had revenue growth of between 50% and 100% every year since it launched.

“The plan is to continue that forward, and even accelerate from there,” he says.

Unicorn dreams

This chunk of funding is set to fuel that expansion. Advanced Navigation was self-funded for its first five years, before taking a small seed funding round.

The Series A is the founders’ first significant cash injection and they’re treating it very much as “an accelerator”, Orr says.

“There’s a $15.8 billion addressable market for our product,” he explains.

“There’s just a massive opportunity to really scale up the sales across the US and Europe, and we’re really ready to go after that right now.”

The funding will largely be used to increase the startup’s headcount. Currently it has about 60 employees, but that’s set to double within the next year.

Orr is planning a “significant expansion” of the sales and support teams in the US and in Europe.

There will also be investment in Australia, where the founders will be hiring more engineers to work on new research and development projects.

“We have some really exciting products in development that are going to be very disruptive to a few robotics sectors,” Orr says.

“The money allows us to fast-track that development and get those products to market sooner.”

The startup is gearing up for a busy 2020, but according to Orr, this is just the beginning. Advanced Navigation has a massive addressable market and the products in the pipeline will only extend that.

“Really, the sky is the limit,” he says.

In fact, the co-founders are aiming for unicorn status within the next three years.

“In our eyes the target is to just grow and grow. The next target we have planned is a $1 billion valuation, and to increase from there.”

How to impress Tesla

For a startup that’s largely been flying under the radar in Australia, Advanced Navigation has attracted the attention — and the dollars — of some of the most influential and innovative tech companies in the world.

When asked how an Aussie startup can stand out on the global market, Orr reveals the trick has been simply getting the tech in front of the right people.

“When we first released the tech there was a lot of scepticism in the market,” he explains.

People thought the performance and accuracy the founders were promising just wasn’t possible.

“Nobody was used to it, and it was really hard to get people to try it.”

It took them visiting the companies with the unit itself, doing demos, and even handing it out for free trial periods.

“That’s been our sales strategy,” Orr says.

“Generally we find once people actually try the product they’ll buy it. It’s all about getting it into their hands to begin with.”

Of course, getting your tech in front of NASA is easier said than done. And here it comes down to a good old-fashioned hustle, and a whole lot of networking.

If you make as many contacts as possible, those contacts will have other contacts, who will have yet more contacts. Eventually, work will spread to the right people, Orr says.

“What we’ve historically done is a lot of trade shows and conventions, tech meetups and LinkedIn stalking,” he says.

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is the editor at StartupSmart. You can contact her at [email protected].