Google-backed Mobvoi is said to seek RM4b value pre-IPO

HONG KONG • Google-backed Mobvoi is close to securing funding that will value the artificial intelligence (AI) start-up at more than US$1 billion (RM4.1 billion) before an initial public offering (IPO) in China, people familiar with the matter said.

The smartwatch and AI software developer is seeking to raise US$100 million and plans to list on a proposed board for technology companies on the Shanghai bourse, the people said, requesting not to be named because the matter is private.

Mobvoi, Google’s first direct investment in China after pulling its search engine in 2010, would be among the more prominent candidates for the new trading venue, envisioned as a capital raising haven for rapidly growing firms. Backed by Sequoia and Zhenfund, it’s among a raft of Chinese companies trying to grab market share from industry leaders such as Apple Inc. The seven-year-old start-up has diversified its business from voice-search services to smart speakers and sports and designer smartwatches.

Mobvoi was valued at about US$300 million during a financing round led by Google in 2015. It declined to comment via an emailed statement.

Founded in 2012 by a group of former Googlers, the Beijing-based start-up forged a strategic partnership with Google through Wear operating system as well as Google Assistant.

It’s also attracted Volkswagen AG as a major investor through a 2017 funding round, forming a joint venture that develops AI for cars. Mobvoi has roughly 800 employees scattered throughout offices from Seattle to San Francisco, according to the company. — Bloomberg