* UiPath takes $153 mln in new venture funding round
* Biggest VC investment in Central/Eastern Europe region
* Company working with Google to embed AI in business automation
By Eric Auchard
FRANKFURT, March 6 (Reuters) - Romanian software firm UiPath has raised $153 million in new venture financing, marking both the company's rapid ascent as a leader in automating routine business tasks and the emergence of Central and Eastern Europe as a global entrepreneurial hub.
UiPath, which grew out of the region's decades-old low-cost software development scene, produces robotic software to carry out repetitive tasks such as cancelling a lost credit card or insurance claims processing, customer order fulfilment and human resources set-up functions.
The company said on Tuesday the funding was led by prior investor Accel and joined by CapitalG, Google's venture capital arm, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and seed-stage investors, Earlybird, Credo Ventures and Seedcamp.
The $153 million (124 million euros) in new investment values UiPath at more than $1.1 billion, its investors said.
Its software led-approach competes with established firms including London AIM-listed Blue Prism and Silicon Valley-based Automation Anywhere, which mix software with services using low-cost labour in offshore centres.
Founded in 2012, UiPath first built a web browser plug-in aimed at consumers but killed it once it realised its underlying computer-vision document scanning technology could act as a robotic helper for many repetitive tasks, its co-founder said.
"As a software engineer, it was a shock to realise so many of these basic business processes were not already automated," Daniel Dines, who is also the CEO, told Reuters in a phone interview. Dines said it eventually dawned on him that "Wow, this is a huge market".
The region’s start-up scene was stillborn until recently, failing to rank among Europe’s top dozen countries for investment or to rival decades-old tech hub Israel. (reut.rs/2D0p1T7)
The funding round represents nearly one-fifth of the 683 million euros in venture financing in Central and Eastern Europe during the whole of 2017, according to data from venture tracking research firm Dealroom.co.
Accel partner Lucian Lixandru said developers-turned-entrepreneurs over the last two years have begun building their own products instead of contracting out to other firms.
"UiPath is definitely going to put the region on the map for investors," Lixandru, a native of Romania now based in London, told Reuters in a phone interview.
The latest investment will be used to integrate machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms into customers’ digital business operations. The funds will also help expand offices across Europe, the United States and Asia, UiPath said.
The company counts 120,000 developers who use its software to automate routine business tasks, often within widely used SAP or Oracle business systems. It is working with Google to develop its AI capabilities and CapitalG's investment reinforces those ties, Dines said.
Last year, the 590-employee company moved its headquarters to New York to be closer to its growing international corporate base, which rose to 700 customers from 100 in 2016. Its strongest markets are the United and Japan, Dines said.
Recurring annual revenue grew eight-fold last year and is now in the $50-$100 million range, he said. (1 euro = $1.2381) ($1 = 0.8074 euros) (Reporting by Eric Auchard; Editing by Adrian Croft)