China: Sinovation Ventures bags $50m from Spain’s BBVA for $500m AI fund

Sinovation founder Kai Fu Lee
SinovationVentures founder Kai Fu Lee. Photo: Bloomberg.

Sinovation Ventures, a Chinese VC firm co-founded by former Google China president Kai-Fu Lee, has secured an investment of $50 million from Spanish bank Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A. (BBVA) for its new $500-million fund, per an announcement on Tuesday.

Sinovation Fund IV would make early-stage investments in companies in areas such as online consumption, B2B and education, with a special emphasis on artificial intelligence, BBVA said in a statement.

The investment will allow BBVA to understand and, potentially, co-invest in Chinese technological startups specialized in AI, and help it increase its presence in the world’s fastest-growing technology market, it added.

Carlos Torres Vila, CEO of BBVA, said, “By investing in Sinovation Fund IV, we made sure to learn and approach some of the most promising artificial intelligence solutions in the world. And we can do it through a high performance investment platform with a solid profitability profile.”

Sinovation Ventures started operations in 2009 and currently has six funds, with total assets under management of more than $1.7 billion. Its investments are mainly focused on China. It claims to have backed six unicorns (startups worth more than $1 billion), including Meitu, Mobike, VIPKid and Face ++.

China’s government has said it wants to make the country the world leader in AI by 2030, by boosting the value of the sector to 1 trillion yuan ($147.7 billion).

With more than 1 billion inhabitants connected through mobile devices, which grow 12 per cent year-on-year each year, the country is a leader in the implementation of mobile payment technologies, BBVA said.

Many other Chinese companies are investing heavily to promote the development of artificial intelligence solutions. Recently, SenseTime raised $600 million in a round of funding led by e-commerce giant Alibaba, breaking the record for the largest venture capital investment in the AI industry.