Investments aplenty: AutoForm to change hands, nTop gets funding

Nov 22, 2021 | Hot Topics

A couple of things I didn’t have time to write about last week, both investments in PLMish companies. And, stunningly, we’re talking about billions of dollars changing hands — and this doesn’t even include the $700 million acquisition Bentley announced last week.

First, AutoForm. The maker of the eponymous suite of sheetmetal forming solutions will be acquired by Carlyle Group for an amount that’s guesstimated to be around $2 billion. (The second link goes to an article on The Street paraphrasing a Wall Street Journal piece that’s behind a paywall.) You may recall that Astorg acquired the majority of AutoForm in 2016 for 700 million Swiss Francs (about $720 million at the time) so this rumored purchase price would be a very nice return to those investors. Why so much? We don’t know for sure, but Carlyle’s announcement says “Under Astorg’s ownership, the company has transitioned from a founder-led organization to an institutionalized company, with an enlarged focus now covering all critical steps from design to assembly of an automobile’s BiW” so perhaps under Astorg’s watch, AutoForm became a more routinized, less personality-led business. Carlyle also said, “Leveraging its significant experience in scaling technology companies and investing in assets that cater to the automotive industry, Carlyle will support AutoForm in accelerating its growth plan through the development of its existing software platform and through acquisitions, as well as investing in the company’s innovative product suite and commercial operations.” Hmm. Acquisitions.

Next, nTopology (aka nTop), the maker of generative designs technology specifically geared towards additive printing, has raised series D funding totaling $65 million. According to TechCrunch, “the funding round led by Tiger Global … brings the New York-based firm’s total funding to $135 million. Existing investors Root Ventures, Canaan Partners, Haystack and Insight Partners also participated in the round.” This follows a Series C round just a year ago, when nTop raised $40 million. According to TechCrunch, nTop plans to use these latest funds to “[expand] its international reach, as well as developing additional features for its software.” Who said CAD was boring?

It takes money to build a CAD or CAE brand; we knew that. AutoForm and nTop might have easier paths to scaling if they were acquired by a big PLM player — and who knows, that may yet happen — but for now, it appears that they want to go it alone. We often think of strategic buyers as longer-term partners, building a business that complements what they already have, while financial buyers are focused on wringing out costs to boost profit. Maybe that’s changing. It sounds as though Astorg supported AutoForm as it grew and created professional systems in the business — perhaps the same will happen at nTop with this additional funding round.

But, yowza, there’s a to of money floating around our PLMish space right now!