New-to-Houston construction tech company files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
Construction startup Katerra, which only recently moved its North American headquarters from Silicon Valley to Houston, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy June 6 — five days after news reports indicated the company was shutting down most of its U.S. operations.
Katerra's filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston show the company and various affiliates have between $1 billion and $10 billion in liabilities and only $500 million to $1 billion in assets. In a June 6 news release, Katerra says it lined up $35 million in financing from a unit of Japan's SoftBank Group, the startup's largest investor.
Katerra recently notified its key stakeholders that many of its U.S. projects will be "demobilizing," according to the news release.
In an email sent June 1 to employees, Katerra said it would be winding down the majority of its U.S. operations and would lay off most of its U.S. employees. News website The Information first reported about the email. Globally, Katerra employs about 7,500 people.
Aside from letting go thousands of employees, Katerra is likely to walk away from dozens of construction projects it had agreed to build, The Information reported. As part of the bankruptcy case, Katerra plans to sell its renovation and Lord Aeck Sargent architecture businesses to unidentified buyers.
Katerra has been hemorrhaging money for months. In December, SoftBank pumped $200 million into Katerra, in addition to its previous investment of roughly $2 billion. Five months after Katerra received that cash infusion, Paal Kibsgaard stepped down as CEO, a role he'd held since July 2020. Kibsgaard is former chairman and CEO of Houston-based Schlumberger.
"The rapid deterioration of the company's financial position is the result of the macroeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the construction industry, inability to procure bonding for construction projects following the unexpected insolvency proceedings of Katerra's former lender, and unsuccessful attempts to secure additional capital and business," according to the news release announcing the bankruptcy proceedings.
Greensill Capital, the lender referenced in the news release, filed for insolvency protection in March. Like Katerra, Greensill is backed by SoftBank.
Katerra was founded in 2015 with the intent to capitalize on technology — such as automation and robotics — in order to streamline construction. Its projects have included hotels and apartment buildings. Last year, it posted nearly $2 billion in revenue.