China Roundup: Kai-Fu Lee’s first Europe bet, WeRide buys a truck startup – TechCrunch


Hey and welcome again to TechCrunch’s China Roundup, a digest of latest occasions shaping the Chinese language tech panorama and what they imply to folks in the remainder of the world.

Regardless of the geopolitical headwinds for overseas tech companies to enter China, many firms, particularly those who discover a reliable accomplice, are nonetheless forging forward. For this week’s roundup, I’m together with a dialog I had with Prophesee, a French imaginative and prescient know-how startup, which not too long ago received funding from Kai-Fu Lee and Xiaomi, together with the standard information digest.

Recognizing alternatives in China

Like many firms engaged on futuristic, cutting-edge tech in Europe, Prophesee was a spinout from college analysis labs. Beforehand, I lined two such firms from Sweden: Imint, which improves smartphone video manufacturing via deep studying, and Dirac, an skilled in sound optimization.

The three firms have two issues in widespread: They’re all in area of interest fields, they usually have all discovered keen clients in China.

For Prophesee, they’re manufacturing traces, automakers and smartphone firms in China in search of breakthroughs in notion know-how, which is able to in flip enhance how their robots reply to the surroundings. So it’s unsurprising that Xiaomi and Chinese language chip-focused funding agency Inno-Chip backed Prophesee in its newest funding spherical, which was led by Sinovation Enterprise.

The funding dimension was undisclosed however TechCrunch realized it was within the vary of “tens of million USD.” It was additionally the primary funding that Kai-Fu Lee has made via Sinovation in Europe. As Prophesee CEO Luca Verre recalled:

I met Dr. Kai-Fu Lee three years in the past in the course of the World Financial Discussion board … and after I pitched to him about Prophesee, he received very intrigued. After which over the previous three years, really, we stored in contact and final 12 months, given the rising traction we had been having in China, significantly within the cellular and IoT business, he determined to leap in. He mentioned okay, it’s now the suitable timing Prophesee turns into large.

The Paris-based firm wasn’t actively in search of funding, nevertheless it believed having Chinese language strategic traders might assist it achieve better entry to the complicated market.

Moderately than sending info collected by sensors and cameras to computing platforms, Prophesee matches that course of inside a chip (fabricated by Sony) that mimics the human eyes, a know-how that’s constructed upon neuromorphic engineering.

The previous methodology snaps a group of fastened photographs so when info grows in quantity, an amazing quantity of computing energy is required. In distinction, Prophesee’s sensors, which it describes as “event-based,” solely decide up modifications within the surroundings simply because the photoreceptors in our eyes and might course of info repeatedly and shortly.

Europe has been pioneering neuromorphic computing, however lately, Verre noticed a surge in analysis coming from Chinese language universities and tech companies, which reaffirmed his confidence available in the market’s urge for food.

We see Chinese language OEMs (authentic tools producers), significantly Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo pushing the usual of high quality of picture high quality to very, very excessive … They’re very desirous to undertake new know-how to additional differentiate in a method which is quicker and extra aggressive than Apple. Apple is an organization with an perspective which to me seems extra just like Huawei. So possibly for some know-how, it takes extra time to see the know-how mature and undertake, which is correct fairly often however later. So I’m positive that Apple will come at sure level with some merchandise integrating event-based know-how. In truth, we see them shifting. We see them submitting patents within the house. I’m positive that may come, however possibly not the primary.

Although China is striving for technological independence, Verre believed Prophesee’s addressable market is massive sufficient — $20 billion by his estimate. Nonetheless, he admitted he’d be “naive to consider Prophesee would be the just one to seize” this chance.

WeRide purchased a truck firm

One in all China’s most respected robotaxi startups has simply acquired an autonomous trucking firm referred to as MoonX. The dimensions of the deal is undisclosed, however we all know that MoonX raised “tens of hundreds of thousands RMB” 15 months in the past in a Sequence A spherical.

Whereas WeRide is targeted on Stage four self-driving know-how, it’s also discovering new monetization avenues earlier than its robotaxis can chauffeur folks at scale. It’s achieved so by growing minibusses, and the MoonX acqui-hire, which brings the corporate’s founder and over 50 engineers to WeRide, will seemingly assist diversify its income pool.

WeRide and MoonX have deep-rooted relationships. Their respective founders, Tony Han and Yang Qingxiong, labored facet by facet at Jingchi, which was later rebranded to WeRide. Han co-founded Jingchi and took the helm as CEO in March 2018 whereas Yang was assigned vice chairman of engineering. However Yang quickly give up and began MoonX.

Han, a Baidu veteran, gave Yang a heat homecoming and put him answerable for the agency’s analysis institute and its new workplace in Shenzhen, residence to MoonX. WeRide’s sprawling headquarters is nearly an hour’s drive away within the adjoining metropolis of Guangzhou.

AI surveillance large Cloudwalk nears IPO

Cloudwalk belongs to a cohort of Chinese language unicorns that flourished via the second half of the 2010s by promoting laptop imaginative and prescient know-how to authorities businesses throughout China. Collectively, Cloudwalk and its rivals SenseTime, Megvii and Yitu had been dubbed the “4 AI dragons” for his or her quick ascending valuations and good-looking funding rounds.

After all, the time period “AI dragon” is now a misnomer as AI software turns into so pervasive throughout industries. Traders quickly realized these upstarts must diversify income streams past sensible metropolis contracts, they usually’ve been ready anxiously for exits. Lastly, right here comes Cloudwalk, which is able to seemingly be the primary in its cohort to go public.

Cloudwalk’s software to lift 3.75 billion yuan ($580 million) from an IPO on the Shanghai STAR board was accepted this week, although it may nonetheless be months earlier than it begins buying and selling. The agency’s financials don’t look significantly rosy for traders, with web loss amounting to 720 million yuan in 2020.

Additionally within the information

  • Talking of the torrent of reports in autonomous driving, car imaginative and prescient supplier CalmCar mentioned this week that it has raised $150 million in a Sequence C spherical. Based by a number of abroad Chinese language returnees in 2016, CalmCar makes use of deep studying to develop ADAS (Superior Driver Help System) utilized in automotive, industrial and surveillance eventualities. German auto components maker ZF led the spherical.
  • Child garments direct-to-consumer model PatPat mentioned it has raised $510 million from Sequence C and D rounds. The D2C ecosystem leveraging China’s sturdy provide chains is more and more gaining curiosity from enterprise capitalists. Manufacturers like Shein, PatPat, Cider and Outer have all secured fundings from established VCs. Based by three Carnegie Mellon grads, PatPat counts IDG Capital, Normal Atlantic, DST International, GGV Capital, SIG China and Sequoia China amongst its traders.



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