Last year, a Chinese startup that makes ultra-thin blankets to keep shipments of food and drink cold got a big break: Walmart decided to use the blankets in its 30 e-commerce depots in China. The startup got the lucrative deal through a special Walmart program, known as Omega 8, which recruits Chinese tech firms to develop technology for the retailer’s stores and warehouses.
Walmart set up the program last August to help its stores in China become more efficient by getting access to new technologies faster. The program underscores how China is beginning to emerge as a source of technological innovation after decades of copying. Foreign companies like Walmart, fighting a fierce battle against local retailers and online giants like Alibaba, are seeking to tap into a pool of Chinese talent forged on a crucible of fierce local competition.