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Asia AI Markets

China’s Megvii IPO Tests Appetite for Artificial Intelligence

Chinese artificial intelligence company Megvii Technology has filed for a Hong Kong initial public offering.

Co-founded by Yin Qi, Tang Wenbin and Yang Mu in 2011, the company has raised a total of $1.35 billion from investors, including  $750 million in May, when the company was valued at around $4 billion.

The company, backed by Jack Ma’s Alibaba and Ant Financial, is most famous for its facial recognition software Face++, which has drawn some controversy over concerns it could be used for surveillance. The company says that some three-quarters of its revenue comes from smart city services, which include services ranging from traffic management to building access for governments and real estate developers.

As one of the first high-profile Chinese AI startups to go public, Megvii is drawing a lot of attention from its peers as a bellwether.  The company said it had $198 million in revenue in 2018, an increase of more than 350% from a year earlier. It also said it brought in $133 million in the first six months of 2019. Losses have also widened to $468 million last year from $106 million a year earlier. In the first six months of 2019, the company recorded a loss of $727 million. 

The listing faces stiff headwinds. Weeks of anti-government protests have depressed Hong Kong’s stock market and raised questions about the ethics of police surveillance. Retail investors, who play a large role in Hong Kong’s markets, may not have the appetite for AI.

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