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Tag Archives: asia

Startups can now apply to take part in Google’s first Demo Day event in Asia

Google is bringing its Demo Day event to Asia for the first time this September and now the search giant has opened applications for startups wanting to take part . Google’s Demo Day are akin to a short version of an early-stage startup program. As the name suggests its a Demo Day but without the months-long program leading up to it. The company instead identifies promising companies, and it works with them ahead of the demo day to give mentoring, coaching and perfect a pitch that is delivered to VCs and others from Google’s entrepreneurship network who attend the demo day. Aside from working closely with Google and earnings Google Cloud credits, Google says its events help get startups connected and raise capital. To that end, it says that startups which have pitched at Demo Days have raised a cumulative $259 million from investors. Events have been held in North America and Europe, with some participating companies from Asia, but this coming event — which takes place in Shanghai on September 20 — will be the first on Asian soil. Companies wishing to apply should visit the sign-up site  before the deadline of July 1 at 11:59 pm SGT. The move is a further sign that Google is escalating its presence in Asia, and particularly in China. In past months, we’ve seen Google agree to a partnership with  Tencent,   invest in China-based startups —  biotech-focused XtalPi  and  live-streaming service Cushou  — and  announce an AI lab in Beijing . Added to that,  Google gained a large tech presence in Taiwan  via the completion of its acquisition of a chunk of HTC, and  it opened a presence in Shenzhen , the Chinese city known as ‘the Silicon Valley of hardware.’ Beyond China, Google has made its first direct investments in Asia-based companies by backing India’s on-demand service Dunzo and Southeast Asian ride-hailing unicorn Go-Jek

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Baidu spins out its global ad business to sharpen its focus on artificial intelligence

Baidu, the Chinese search giant, is spinning out its business unit responsible for utility apps and its mobile ad business to sharpen its focus on artificial intelligence. As part of the spin-out, Baidu is selling a large chunk of its equity in the ‘Global DU’ business to as-yet-undisclosed investors. The plan is to sell “a majority equity stake” in order to take Global DU independent. Once the deal is completed — it is targeted at a Q3 2018 timeframe — Baidu’s share of the business will drop to around 34 percent. Further, the business is likely to raise additional capital for growth. Spinning out business units is commonplace among Chinese tech companies, Baidu itself recently did so with its financial services business . Herman Yu, Baidu CFO, said this latest spin-out will give Global Du “autonomy and agility in its operation.” It will also allow Baidu to focus more keenly on artificial intelligence. The firm said it will set up a new global business unit around its AI-powered services, including recommendation engine PopIn, keyboard app Simeji and other services in the U.S. and Southeast Asia. The plan is to allow these services to work more closely with Baidu’s AI labs, which include locations in Silicon Valley and Seattle. Already, that push has helped Baidu’s earnings, which had been set back when the Chinese government invested internet advertising focused on medical services . Despite the AI push, Baidu has suffered as key personnel departed over the past year. Last week, Qi Lu, Baidu’s president and COO who is also its highest-ranking AI specialist, departed the company due to personal reasons .

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Tencent leads $50M investment in NewsDog, an app vying to be India’s Toutiao

The growth of China’s Bytedance, an ambitious $30 billion tech firm , and its highly-addictive Toutiao news aggregator app has set off a search for services with similar growth potential across the world. India, second in population only to China with rapidly-growing internet access, is an obvious place to look, and would-be pretender to the Toutiao crown has been found in the shape of NewsDog, a Chinese company that stumbled on success in India . Today, NewsDog announced a $50 million Series C round led by Chinese internet giant Tencent. Toutiao is a phenomenon in China. The app has around 200 million daily users, and it is one of the few new tech products to emerge in a China where Tencent and Alibaba dominate the consumer app landscape. Point in case, it is so mainstream now that it has even run into issues with China’s internet censors. Toutiao is essentially a news aggregation service that lets consumers catch their daily reads and discover stories with an experience tailored to their habits and likes. That’s very much the style of NewsDog, which claims over 50 million users. The service has branched out to cover 10 of Indians many languages, while it recently established a platform — ‘WeMedia’ — that augments its content aggregation by allowing users to submit stories, too. This round is a major milestone for the company. In a competitive environment, it is the largest fundraising round from a news app company in India while it more obviously brings Tencent, the $500 billion tech giant , on board with its experience and support. Other investors include Chinese VCs Danhua Capital (DHVC) and Legend Capital as well as Chinese mobile app firm DotC United. NewsDog’s competition includes Dailyhunt  — which is backed by Toutiao-owner Bytedance — Inshorts , which counts Tiger Global among its investors, and NewsPoint , which is owned by media firm Times Internet

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Alibaba’s newest initiative aims to make Hong Kong a global AI hub

Alibaba is teaming up with SenseTime, the world’s highest-valued AI startup, to launch a not-for-profit artificial intelligence lab in Hong Kong in a bid to make the city a global hub for artificial intelligence. Alibaba, which is SenseTime’s largest single investor thanks to a recent $600 million round at a valuation of $4.5 billion , is providing financing for the “HKAI Lab” through its Hong Kong entrepreneurship fund . SenseTime said it will contribute too, although the total amount of capital backing the initiative hasn’t been revealed. The partners of the project — which also includes the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) — said the aim is to “advance the frontiers of AI,” which includes helping startups commercialize their technology, develop ideas and promote knowledge sharing in the AI field. That’s all fairly general — Alibaba has a track record of politicking through technology investment schemes in Greater China and Southeast Asia — but one tangible project is a six-month accelerator program planned for September which will welcome AI startups to the HKAI Lab. Alibaba’s Cloud business and HKSTP are among the backers that will help the program offer early-stage funding to successful applicants, while Alibaba and SenseTime will help with mentoring and development during the program. “Alibaba sees AI as a fundamental technology that will make a difference to society,” Alibaba executive vice chairman Joe Tsai said in a statement. “We envision the Hong Kong AI Lab to be an open platform where researchers, startups and industry participants can collaborate and build a culture of innovation.” China and the U.S. are the two biggest players in the global AI battle; this project alone won’t divert that, but it could stir up potential in Hong Kong. Alibaba maintains tight relationships in Hong Kong, particularly through the fund which is around $130 million in size.

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Jirnexu pulls in $11M for its financial comparison service in Southeast Asia

It’s been a busy week for startup funding in Southeast Asia. Following big deals for Carro and Carousell , financial comparison startup Jirnexu is the latest to announce new capital after it closed an $11 million Series B round. The new investment comes courtesy of Japan’s SBI Group — a returning investor which led the round having co-led Carro’s $60 million raise — alongside new backer SIG Asia Investments. The deal takes  Jirnexu to $17 million from investors to date. The startup was founded in 2012 and it is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It operates financial comparison services in its native Malaysia (‘ RinggitPlus ‘) and in Indonesia, under the ‘ KreditGoGo ‘ brand, that aggregate offerings from banks and financial companies that include Citibank, HSBC, Standard Chartered, and UOB. In short, the company acts as a user acquisition channel for financial organizations that want to reach consumers and maintain a dialogue with them. In recent years, Jirnexu has gone beyond basic banking products to offer insurance and e-policies, while it has introduced chatbots in conjunction with five financial organizations to help ease the process of sign-up and selection for their customers. “Our core focus is to  become the only band of services a consumer needs for their personal finance and money,” Jirnexu CEO Yuen Tuck Siew, who founded the company after returning home from a decade in the UK,  told TechCrunch in an interview. “Two years ago, it was all about banking, particularly secure credit, now we’ve announced live quotes for insurance and we’ll be adding more insurance products.” In particular, the startup is focused on consumer digital identification and eKYC that will help it to tailor suggested packages more accurately for consumers. Jirnexu has raised new funding in 2016 and 2017, but Siew said this newest round gives significant runway that will allow it to focus on longer-term strategies with more clarity than before. “We can now plan multiple years ahead which is absolutely essential with what we can do. No matter how longterm you want to think, when you need to raise money regularly you’re always looking at KPIs. Now we can plan and invest in projects that can really have a huge impact for customers,” he explained.

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China’s Didi pares back ‘hitchhiking’ car service following passenger murder

Didi Chxuing is making big changes to Hitch, its inter-city carpooling service, following the murder of a passenger at the hands of a driver earlier this month. Last week, Didi — China’s dominant ride-hailing service by some margin — expressed its “deep remorse” for the murder, and  suspended Hitch for a week to conduct a review of the service . Hitch, as the name suggests, is a hitchhiking-style service that groups people who are headed in the same direction together. Unlike Didi’s other services, it isn’t commercial; passengers give the driver their share of fuel and any other costs they want to cover. That makes it affordable and hugely popular , but it has also made the service less professional than Didi’s other modes of transport. Indeed, many in China have claimed the service is ‘sleazy,’ with many comments left about passenger appearances, particularly those who are female. The primary change will see Hitch available limited to daytime when the service resumes, with no new rides able to start between the hours of 10pm and 6am. In an apparent nod to the unsavory elements, Didi is scrubbing all Hitch driver and passenger reviews and ratings. Personal information for users will no longer be public, and profile photos will be replaced by generic images, Didi said. Beyond Hitch, Didi is also making changes to its driver authentication program. That’s down, in a large part, to the fact that the suspect in the murder of the passenger was not a verified Didi driver

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Mercari, Japan’s first unicorn, files to raise $1.1B in Tokyo IPO

Mercari , the eBay-like service that is Japanese first tech startup unicorn, has filed to go public in an IPO that could raise as much as $1.1 billion. The company is scheduled to list on the Toyko Stock Exchange’s Mothers Market — a board for high-growth companies — on June 19. The company reached the symbolic $1 billion valuation mark in 2016 when it raised a $75 million Series D . In doing so it became the first Japanese tech startup to become a pre-IPO unicorn. Earlier this year, that valuation jumped to $2 billion following a $47 million investment . The five-year-old company operates an online ‘flea market’ that lets consumers sell unwanted goods with a focus on mobile. Japan is its core market, but the company expanded into the U.S. in 2014 and last year it entered Europe, initially via the UK. It boosted its overseas strategy in June 2017 when it hired former Facebook executive John Lagerling as its first chief business officer to guide its global strategy. The business passed 100 million downloads worldwide at the end of 2017. Mercari said that over 30 million downloads are in the U.S., with more than 60 million in Japan. Speaking earlier this year, CEO Shintaro Yamada — who sold his previous startup Unoh to gaming firm Zynga in 2010 — said success in the U.S. is essential if Mercari is to become an international player. Japanese unicorn Mercari is gunning for eBay’s crown Reuters reports that Mercari’s forecasted share price of 2,200-2,700 JPY per share would see the company raise up to 117.6 billion JPY ($1.1 billion) at a total market cap of 365.4 billion JPY, $3.3 billion. It’s common for Japanese startups to go public, but it traditionally tends to happen much earlier than in the U.S or other parts of the world. That’s often times down to investors — who seek to reduce the risk of their money not returning — and a relative lack of capital for startups, but Mercari has held out longer than most and that might set an example for future companies

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NES Classic loaded with classic manga games raises hopes for other special editions

Japanese gamers and manga aficionados and every combination thereof will get a treat this summer with the release of a NES Classic Edition loaded with games from the pages of Weekly Jump. The beloved manga mag is celebrating its 50th anniversary and this solid gold Famicom is part of the festivities. There’s basically no chance this Jump-themed NES will get a release in the US — first because hardly any Americans will have read any of these manga (with a couple exceptions) and second because even fewer will have played the Famicom games associated with them. Familiar… and yet… That said, this nurtures the hope inside me that we will at some point see other themed NES Classics; the original has, of course, a fantastic collection — but there are dozens more games I would have loved to see on there. You can hack the thing pretty easily and put half the entire NES library on it, but Nintendo’s official versions will have been tested and perhaps even tweaked to make sure they run perfectly (though admittedly emulation problems aren’t common for NES games). Review: The NES Classic Edition and all 30 games on it More importantly it’s possible these hypothetical themed consoles may come with new accessories that I desperately need, like a NES Advantage, Zapper (not sure how it would work), or NES Max. Perhaps even a Power Glove? In the meantime, at least if you missed the chance to buy one the first time around, you can grab one come the end of June. Nintendo’s NES Classic will return to U.S. retail stores on June 29

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Xiaomi is bringing its smart home devices to the US — but still no phones yet

Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone maker that’s looking to raise as much as $10 billion in a Hong Kong IPO , is continuing to grow its presence in the American market after it announced plans to bring its smart home products to the U.S.. The company is best known for its well-priced and quality smartphones, but Xiaomi offers hundreds of other products which range from battery chargers to smart lights, air filter units and even Segway . On the sidelines of Google I/O, the company quietly made a fairly significant double announcement: not only will it bring its smart home products to the U.S., but it is adding support for Google Assistant, too. The first products heading Stateside include the Mi Bedside Lamp, Mi LED Smart Bulb and Mi Smart Plug, Xiaomi’s head of international Wan Xiang said, but you can expect plenty more to follow. Typically, Xiaomi sells to consumers in the U.S. via Amazon and also its Mi.com local store, so keep an eye out there. Xiaomi just announced during #io8 that our smart home products will work with the Google Assistant. The initial selection of compatible products includes Mi Bedside Lamp, Mi LED Smart Bulb and Mi Smart Plug, which will be coming to the U.S soon! https://t.co/f65lj2jNej pic.twitter.com/nEXMiIyyZ8 — Wang Xiang (@XiangW_) May 10, 2018 Smartphones, however, are a different question. Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun — who stands to become China’s richest man thanks to the IPO — previously said the company is looking to bring its signature phones to the U.S. by early 2019 at the latest. There’s no mention of that in Xiaomi’s IPO prospectus , which instead talks of plans to move into more parts of Europe and double down on Russia and Southeast Asia. Indeed, earlier this week, Xiaomi announced plans to expand beyond Spain and into France and Italy in Europe, while it has also inked a carrier deal with Hutchinson that will go beyond those markets into the UK and other places. You can expect that it will take its time in the U.S., particularly given the concerns around Chinese OEMs like Huawei — which has been blacklisted by carriers — and ZTE, which has had its telecom equipment business clamped down on by the U.S.

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