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BBVA斥资5000万美元参投创新工场AI基金

谷歌中国前负责人李开复创立的创新工场宣布,计划设立一个5亿美元的新基金,对互联网消费、B2B、教育、尤其是人工智能创企进行投资。而近日,该基金第一笔资金已经到位,而投资者正是西班牙的BBVA银行集团。

据了解,创新工场目前资金管理规模已经达到17亿美元,最近两次融资发生在2016年9月,总额合计6.75亿美元。

来自Crunchbase的数据显示,创新工场目前共完成164项投资,比如摩拜共享单车和VIPKID教育应用等。此外,创新工场还投资了一些与中国科技生态系统相关的创业公司,例如加利福尼亚的Wonder Workshop,该项目使得机器人能够帮助孩子学习编码。

BBVA对创新工场的投资,有两点原因值得我们关注。

首先,过去西方风投公司经常通过亚洲和中东的资金来“充实”自己的基金,而这次BBVA的投资则提供了一个相反方向的案例,而这主要也是受到全球对人工智能产业的兴趣和中国以外的创业热潮的影响。

其次,虽然BBVA已经在金融科技领域进行了一系列投资和收购 (比如在美国收购Simple,并向英国的Atom Bank和德国的Solaris等初创公司投资数亿美元),但它也一直在思考这样模式的合理性和有效性。

据了解,BBVA目前已经撤销了内部风投部门,转而将资金投入外部公司。如今对创新工场的投资更是再次证明了这个趋势,BBVA可以利用另一家风投公司的专业知识帮助其找到融入更广泛的(特别是中国之外)技术创新的新方向,并了解到它们将如何影响金融科技和BBVA更广泛的利益。

值得注意的时,创新工场的5亿美元基金很容易让人想起另外一个亚洲风投大户——软银集团的Vision Fund。软银基金的Vision Fund资金规模在1000亿美元左右。该基金拥有苹果、富士康以及中东地区多位投资者在内的有限合伙人。毫无疑问,软银已经成为VC领域的巨头,并多次出现在大型增长轮投资的领投方或独立投资人。

不过,创新工场的立足点与软银等其他大公司还是有所区别,而这似乎也成为了该基金的一个优势,因为创新工场在中国有更多的本土资源和优势,而且主要关注被大公司和机构忽视的早期业务。

It’s not often that you hear many details about the limited partners that feed money into a venture capital fund, and even less so when it’s about Western money being channelled into Chinese VCs, but today comes news of how one of the more interesting funds out of China is shaping up, courtesy of a strategic European investor.

Sinovation Ventures, a Chinese VC co-founded by the ex-head of Google China, Kai-Fu Lee, has raised a new fund of $500 million to invest in AI startups out of the region. Now, the first tranche of investment has been announced for it: $50 million from Spanish bank BBVA.

From what we understand, no investments have yet been made out of Sinovation Fund IV, which was formally made public in an SEC Form D fundraising filing this month. According to a statement from BBVA, the $50 million investment is the first money that has been announced, but it sounds like the larger $500 million total has already been committed:

“The fund has about $500 million to invest in firms at the early stages in areas such as internet consumption, B2B, education but with a special focus on artificial intelligence (AI),” the bank said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.

Sinovation has about $1.7 billion under management, with its two most recent previous funds, totaling $675 million, announced in September 2016. Crunchbase notes that Sinovation has made 164 investments to date, with a focus on startups out of China such as the bike-sharing startup Mobike and education app VIPKID; it’s also investing in startups that are tied into the Chinese tech ecosystem, such as the California-based Wonder Workshop, which makes robots designed to help kids learn to code and counts other Chinese and Asian investors among its backers.

The BBVA  investment into Sinovation is notable for a couple of reasons. The first is that it gives some visibility into how one of the bigger funds coming out of Asia to focus on AI is raising its money. While a number of VC firms in the West are tapping into money from Asia and the Middle East to build their funds, this is a sign of how it is also working in the reverse, fueled by a boom of interest globally in AI and a big wave of innovation specifically coming out of China.

“By investing into the Sinovation Fund IV, we are ensuring we can learn from and build connections with some of the most promising AI solutions being built anywhere on the planet,” said BBVA CEO Carlos Torres Vila in a statement. “Just as importantly, we can do it via a high-performing investment platform with a strong return profile.”

The second point here is that for BBVA specifically, the company has made a number of investments and acquisitions in fintech — some notable investments include the acquisition of Simple in the U.S., and hundreds of millions of dollars invested in startups like Atom Bank in the U.K. and Solaris in Germany — but it has also been rethinking the approach it takes to do this.

At one point, BBVA shut down its in-house venture arm and put money instead into an outside firm. Today’s investment in Sinovation is part of that bigger trend, where the BBVA can tap into another VC firm’s expertise to help it figure out how to get involved into the wider spectrum of tech innovations, specifically out of China, and how they might impact fintech and BBVA’s wider interests.

“With AI-empowered-banking tools likely to be a key differentiator for customers in the future, as well as critical to providing colleagues with the information they need to deliver improved customer value, the investment will give BBVA insight and access to the growing Chinese innovation market, especially around AI,” BBVA notes. “From a financial perspective, it will also give BBVA the opportunity to understand and potentially co-invest into Chinese AI technological startups, gaining exposure to the world’s fastest growing tech market while targeting attractive returns on investment.”

Sinovation’s $500 million fund, ironically, may sound like peanuts when you consider another VC operating out of Asia, SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which is hovering at around $100 billion for its fund (which has also disclosed a number of significant LPs such as Apple, Foxconn and Qualcomm, as well as a number of investors out of the Middle East. Through it, SoftBank has become an undeniably outsized player in the VC world, with the firm becoming a regular figure as the leading or sole backer in large growth rounds. (The two have invested in some of the same companies, as well.)

Sinovation fills an interesting niche, however, when you consider Lee’s expertise, the many earlier stage businesses that SoftBank and other big firms have yet to tap and Sinovation’s ears on the ground in China specifically — a significant market both for customers and for those who want to be at the vanguard of what’s being built for users everywhere.


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