Qualcomm announces investment in Mobike and eight other Chinese startups
Qualcomm is continuing its charm offensive in China, a critical market where it has suffered hard blows in recent years including a $1 billion anti-trust fine, after it announced a flurry of new investments.
These are chaotic times for Qualcomm, which is fielding unwanted acquisition interest from Broadcom and battling Apple in court, but today it put the focus back on supporting upcoming technologies, albeit for a brief moment. The firm said it has invested in nine companies based in China using its $150 million China Venture Fund announced in 2014 which span internet-of-things, big data, artificial intelligence and more.
Most prominent of the nine is bike-sharing giant Mobike, which has over 100 million users in China and is making international moves, while fast-growing $1.5 billion-valued AI startup SenseTime, which raised a $410 million Series B round in July, is another name with existing pedigree.
Mobike has worked closely with Qualcomm over its international expansion, which uses a single platform to enable any of its bikes to be deployed quickly to any international market, but this is the first time that an investment has been revealed.
The deal with SenseTime, meanwhile, has not yet been disclosed but it is reportedly part of a $500 million round, which would be the largest financing round for an AI startup worldwide to date.
The other startups backed include:
- Creatcomm Technology — which provides long distance wireless video/data transmission solutions.
Kneron — an on-device AI solution provider with a focus on software re-configuration
and hardware compression. Qualcomm took part in its Series A round alongside investors like Alibaba’s Entrepreneurs Fund and Sequoia.
- Element Zone — which develops software and services to power unattended convenience stores. That’s a growing trend that Alibaba, among others, is exploring to blend offline commerce with online. Qualcomm clarified that this investment is agreed in principle but hasn’t closed yet
- Microduino — the company behind the world’s smallest series of Arduino-compatible smart modules that can be used for a variety of DIY projects and education purposes. TechCrunch profiled the company and its products at CES 2016.
- Magic AI — which is building a platform to bring artificial intelligence, virtual reality and augmented reality to specific industries and verticals. Its first product, StableGuard, is an AI-powered monitoring and alert system for horse stables.
- Beijing Agriculture Consultant and Smart Management (ACSM) — a follow-up investment in this company which provides intelligent systems to help farmers bring industrial efficiency to their business.
- Alo7 — a online tutoring startup which operates a “fully immerse” English-language study environment for educating primary school children. This is also a follow-on investment.
“This group of innovative companies focuses on AI, IoT and other areas. We strive to help these companies make their ideas and creativity a reality, by providing financial, technology and business support. Qualcomm Ventures will continue to enable innovation among startups in the frontier tech areas, and help grow the entire industry,” Quinn Li, VP and global head of Qualcomm Ventures, said in a statement.
Qualcomm’s China venture business has close to 40 portfolio companies today. It branched out into what it calls “frontier technologies” in 2015 to put the focus on upcoming tech such as AI, internet-of things, machine learning and VR.
The U.S. firm announced a similar batch of investment deals back in late 2015, and this latest round of deals comes off the back of some serious politicking in China, a market that accounts for more than half of its revenue.
During President Trump’s visit to China, Qualcomm announced deals with three top mobile makers — Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo — to sell upwards of $12 billion in components for their devices. Just weeks before, Qualcomm attempted to trigger a ban the sale of Apple’s iPhone in China in a continuation of the two firm’s global patent spat.
Apple is said to have designed upcoming iPhones that do not include Qualcomm’s chips, and the firm is claiming that, in doing so, the phone maker has taken advantage of its “unprecedented access” to its tech.
These deals might go a little way to currying additional favor in China, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Apple has also invested in Chinese tech startups, too. The firm inked a rare investment when it put $1 billion into Didi Chuxing as part of a gargantuan $5.5 billion raise for the taxi hailing company last year.
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