Acquisitions / Autonomous tech / Business / Business development / Investing

Aurora will go public through a SPAC later this year. Here’s what that means

The local unicorn will take Pittsburgh's autonomous driving sector public in advance of a planned 2023 product launch.

An Aurora autonomous vehicle. (Courtesy photo)
In the span of a few weeks, two major Pittsburgh-based companies announced plans to go public.

On Thursday, news broke that autonomous vehicle company Aurora Innovation, headquartered in the Strip District, will become a public company through a merger with special acquisition company (SPAC) Reinvent Technology Partners Y. Reinvent was founded in 2020 and is led by LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and BHR Capital cofounder Michael Thompson; Hoffman had already been a board member of Aurora in the company’s 2018 Series A funding round through Greylock Partners, which also participated in the Series B round.

The new company will be listed on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol AUR with a combined $13 billion valuation, which will come from about $2.5 billion in cash from the merger, $1 billion from private investments and the existing $10 billion valuation of Aurora, which the company reached in its acquisition of Uber‘s self-driving unit, Advanced Technologies Group, at the end of 2020. The transaction on the new combined company is expected to close later this year.

SPACs, also referred to as blank check companies, reached a record high in 2020 as a way for companies to go public. Acting as shell companies, SPACs like Reinvent Technology Partners Y exist solely for the sake of bringing other companies public through mergers and acquisitions. Going public through a SPAC is usually much faster than pursuing an IPO route, which can sometimes take over a year to finalize.

Some of the private investors on the Aurora acquisition include investment management firm Baillie Gifford, as well as other funds advised and managed by high-profile firms like T. Rowe Price Associates and Sequoia Capital, plus Uber, PACCAR and Volvo Group.

Founded in 2017, Aurora has since grown to a company of 1,600 employees, with East Coast headquarters in Pittsburgh and vehicle testing hubs in the Bay Area and Dallas. After acquiring Uber’s technology last year and partnering with Volvo Group and PACCAR for truck manufacturing, Aurora has plans to launch its first autonomous product, the Aurora Driver, by the end of 2023. The company declined an immediate interview on this news, but confirmed that this deal will help them achieve product timeline goals and commercialization.

Along with the initial press release on Thursday, the company’s three founders, Chris Urmson, Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell, published a letter to shareholders, underscoring Aurora’s mission “to make the movement of goods and people more democratic, more productive, more dependable, and — crucially — much safer than it is today.”

This merger will undoubtedly make that mission more possible, as Aurora leverages its new capital to continue development and deployment of its inaugural product. Signs of that continued growth are evident on the company’s career page, which currently has 78 job postings across eight locations, including a technical product/program manager and a functional safety engineer in Pittsburgh. The company has plans to keep its presence here, too, writing that “we can attribute much of our growth to Pittsburgh’s strong talent and thriving, diverse community,” in a LinkedIn post last month.

Aurora going public is good news for Pittsburgh tech, which just saw fellow local unicorn Duolingo file its S-1 in advance of a highly anticipated IPO to come later this year. Together, these two moves to public trading continue an entrepreneurial momentum that’s been rippling across the community as the pandemic wanes.

Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Duolingo / Aurora

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