AI China

Shanghai Spawns a New Generation of AI Startups

A typical JD motorcycle deliveryman in Shanghai delivers 100 packages per day, racing along the city's waterfront, navigating tiny alleyways and darting between the city's skyscrapers. That may seem impressive but JD is still striving to improve motorcycle delivery efficiency with new tech — much of it AI-powered.

A typical JD motorcycle deliveryman in Shanghai delivers 100 packages per day, racing along the city’s waterfront, navigating tiny alleyways and darting between the city’s skyscrapers. That may seem impressive but JD is still striving to improve motorcycle delivery efficiency with new tech — much of it AI-powered.

Shanghai is home to 24 million people and some 2 million businesses — many of which are highly competitive tech companies. In this environment, startups must either excel quickly or risk being left behind. Rising Shanghai social E-commerce startup Pinduoduo needed just three years to reach a gross merchandise volume of 100 billion units — it took first-generation tech giants Alibaba and JD five and ten years respectively to reach the same milestone.

A half-hour subway ride from People’s Square in the city centre is Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, where many Shanghai tech industries are clustered. The area fostered China’s first generation tech companies: game developer the9, travel booking site Ctrip, E-commerce platform Eachnet, job hunting site 51job, Shenda games, online literature portal Rongshuxia, to name a few.
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A wave of second-generation tech companies

Today, more than one-third of China’s AI talents are in Shanghai, including top-notch engineers in computer vision, speech recognition, neural science, etc. Zhangjiang’s second-generation tech companies are quietly expanding, and engineers and management are leaving Shanghai’s first generation tech giants to found their own startups.

The success of Geoffrey Hinton’s AlexNet in the 2012 ImageNet ILSVRC challenge was a major boost for AI research and prompted Google to embrace deep learning in many of its business units. Seeing the potential opportunities, Chinese AI researchers Yi Wang and Zhifei Li left overseas positions with Google to repatriate and start their own companies.

Wang worked on the Liulishuo English teaching app prototype in Hangzhou. Within a year his project had secured investments and moved to the Shanghai Fudan Software Center. The same year, Li founded Mobvoi to conduct R&D on NLP and voice recognition.

Also in 2012, Wei Huang left the Shenda Research Centre to found Unisound, while Shikai Chen left Shenda to start LiDar company Slamtech, which focuses on upgrading small robots with navigation capabilities.

Meanwhile, in a tiny apartment next to Shanghai Jiaotong University, Long Zhu founded Yitu Tech to meet the public securities market’s demand for visual recognition technologies. Six years later Yitu occupies huge offices and employs 500 people. Yitu is reaping benefits from its prime geographic location: As the company moves into the healthcare industry, it has forged partnerships with Shanghai’s large network of hospitals.

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Yitu is one of 11 AI unicorns fostered by Shanghai. Since 2014 the city’s startups have recorded a total of 58 financing rounds which exceeded US$100 million.

Smart chips and self-driving cars take center stage

In 2014, an influx of investment funding awakened Shanghai’s semi-dormant semiconductor industry. The US$100 billion National IC Industry Fund was established and has since completely changed the state of China’s semiconductor industry. To further accelerate chip design development, Shanghai also introduced a series of support policies.

In 2016 image and video processing scientist Jizhang Shan decided to leave American computer hardware company Howard Technologies and return to China to start his own business. Ten years of market experience told Shan that the image sensor and application processing market was burgeoning, and the market for smartphones alone would be huge. Attracted by its concentration of talents and technology, Shan selected Zhangjiang as the base for his Black Sesame Technologies Inc, which aims to make chips that can compete with Intel’s Mobileye EyeQ4 and upcoming EyeQ5.

Last year Shanghai AI chipmaker Westwell Lab developed a deep learning chip and set its sights on providing full stack solutions for self-driving companies. In Putuo District, startup ThinkForce invested in the development of microkernel ManyCore chip architecture with cloud capabilities, which also focused on the cloud. Zhangjiang-based Elgon Intelligence meanwhile began upgrading its edge and cloud computing calculation density by an order of magnitude, a goal inspired by chip behemoth Nvidia.

An‘Yan Road in suburban Jiading District is home to Shanghai’s Automobile City and state-owned SAIC Motors, whose first-quarter sales this year sales ranked in China’s top ten. Just south of An‘Yan Road is the city’s automobile innovation port, which over the last two years has become a hot destination for domestic and foreign automotive companies, venture capital, and entrepreneurs.

What the future holds

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Explosive growth: Shanghai in 1987 and 25 years later


Back in 1999, Jack Ma founded Alibaba in the city of Hangzhou, which is just 100km from Shanghai. For years there was a lingering sense of disappointment in Shanghainese tech circles at having missed the opportunity to host Ma’s startup, which grew into an E-commerce giant.

But there is little time for reflection in the port city, which moved on to business at hand and grew both its infrastructure and its startups at an unprecedented pace. Even through the lean “capital winter” of 2016, Shanghai still led 344 rounds of investment, many for AI companies. Active investors included Sequoia Capital, IDG, Zhenfund, and Matrix Partners China.

The next decade will probably not see additional skyscrapers popping out of the blue to reshape the Shanghai skyline, but rather the continuing development of an ultramodern metropolis powered by AI. As Apple CEO Tim Cook said during his visit, “This is a great city where any dream can come true.”

Top 50 AI Companies in Shanghai

  1. Bigsec – Information Security | Funding Round A | $8.9 M
  2. DeepBlue Technology – Smart Retail | Funding Round B | $94.8M
  3. CreditX – Financial Risk Management | Funding Round B | $3.2 M
  4. Westwell Lab – Deep Learning | Funding Round A | $1.9 M
  5. BosonNLP – Financial Risk Management | Funding Round A | $9.1 M
  6. Tigerobo – Financial Technology | Funding Round Pre-A | $48 M
  7. LingoChamp(Liulishuo) – Voice Interaction | Funding Round C | $128.9 M
  8. Xueba100.com – Education | Funding Round C | $155 M
  9. Roadefend Vision Technology – Face Recognition | Funding Round A | $4.4 M
  10. Camcard – Big Data | Funding Round C | $10.2 M
  11. Palmap – Indoor Positioning | Funding Round New Three Board | $5 M
  12. Puying.ai – AI Insurance | Funding Round Angel | $150 K
  13. Ucloud – Cloud Computing | Funding Round E | $567.7 M
  14. Yixue Education – Education | Funding Round Angel | $43.7 M
  15. Whaley – Smart Audio Visual | Funding Round A | $291.1 M
  16. Emotibot Technologies Limited – Semantic Interpretation | Funding Round B | $23.7 M
  17. Montage Technology – Chip | Funding Round IPO (Acquired) | $804.2 M
  18. Transwarp – Big Data | Funding Round C | $67.6 M
  19. Wangsu Science & Technology Co., Ltd. – Tech Service | Funding Round IPO | $498 M
  20. PartnerX Robotics – Robotics | Funding Round A | $87.3 M
  21. PingJia Technology – Big Data | Funding Round A+ | $50.9 M
  22. Huifu Payment Ltd – Payment | Funding Round C | $35.2 M
  23. Shanghai Ulucu Electronic Technology – Video Monitoring | Funding Round C | $29.7 M
  24. ThinkForce – AI Chip | Funding Round A | $65.5 M
  25. Mobvoi – Speech Recognition | Funding Round D | $252.7 M
  26. Slamtec – GPS navigation | Funding Round C | $38.3 M
  27. Tunicorn Technology – Security | Funding Round A | $37.8 M
  28. Yuanqu Information Technology – Voice Interaction | Funding Round B | $13.5 M
  29. Synyi – Text Analysis | Funding Round B | $23.9 M
  30. Percipio.xyz – Machine Vision | Funding Round A | $3.2 M
  31. IS’VISION – Face Recognition | Funding Round – | –
  32. CSG Smart Science & Technology Co., Ltd. – Artificial intelligence | Funding Round IPO | $160.7 M
  33. IceKredit – Big Data | Funding Round Pre-B | $44.3 M
  34. HiScene – AR | Funding Round B | $23.7 M
  35. Qeexo – Human-computer Interaction | Funding Round B | $7.4 M
  36. Yogo Robot – Robotics | Funding Round A+ | $4.8 M
  37. Zongmu Technology Limited – ADAS | Funding Round C | $64 M
  38. TMiRob – Robotics | Funding Round B | $36.4 M
  39. Qiniu – Cloud Service | Funding Round E | $300 M
  40. DataGrand – Text intelligence | Funding Round A | $8.7 M
  41. CloudCare – Cloud Service | Funding Round C | $15 M
  42. Fourier Intelligence – Robotics | Funding Round A | $7.7 M
  43. Yitu Technology – Machine Vision | Funding Round C+ | $370.1 M
  44. ReadSense Ltd. – Deep Learning | Funding Round B | $9.6 M
  45. Clobotics – Drones | Funding Round A+ | $15.6 M
  46. Winner Technology Co., Inc. – Behavior Analytics | Funding Round IPO | $60.8 M
  47. Xiaoi Robot – Speech Recognition | Funding Round New Three Board | $110.5 M
  48. Nio – Intelligent Vehicles | Funding Round IPO | $3.6 B
  49. Omni prime – Financial Technology | Funding Round Stratgetic | $144.2 M
  50. Gaodun.com – Education | Funding Round B | –
  51. Links (Links-e.com) – Big Data | Funding Round A | $7.3 M
  52. Video++ – Video Marketing | Funding Round C+ | $227.2 M
  53. Rontgen Medical – Medical Imaging | Funding Round A | $4.4 M
  54. Singulato Motors – Intelligent Vehicles | Funding Round C | $1 B
  55. Versa – Image Processing | Funding Round Pre-A | $5.2 M
  56. Leapstack – Financial Risk Management | Funding Round A | $4.4 M
  57. Kitedge – Smart Office | Funding Round – | –
  58. HaoMaiYi – Machine Vision | Funding Round B | $17.8 M
  59. Ifchange – Intelligent Recruitment | Funding Round B | $56.8 M

Active Investors and Incubators in Shanghai

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Source: Synced China


Localization: Meghan Han, Fangyu Cai, Tingting Cao | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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