China’s search giant Baidu announced on Monday to spin off its original global business unit, consisting of global mobile apps business and Du Ad Platform (DAP) a mobile ad service, for independent operation and fundraising.
The spinoff, rebranded as Xiaoxiong Bowang (小熊博望), will be raising a fresh round. HU Yong, general manager of the old unit will become CEO of the new company.
Shenzhen Capital Group is leading the round and will hold 53% of the new entity together with its associated funds and institutions, while Baidu remains a significant stakeholder with a 34% share.
In the meantime, Baidu will set up a new and AI-centered international business unit to promote its series of AI-powered apps globally, such as mobile recommendation engine PopIn and Japan’s most popular IME Simeji, in addition to exporting the company’s flagship DuerOS a conversation-based AI system and Apollo the autonomous driving platform.
Baidu established its original international business unit in the year of 2006, with offices in 7 countries across the world including Indonesia and Thailand. The unit was supposed to promote Baidu’s homegrown Android-based tool apps outside of China, including the likes of DU Speed Booster, DU Battery Saver, DU Recorder, MoboMarket as well as Photo Wonder.
The spinoff comes at a delicate time. Two days ago, LU Qi, Baidu’s former COO and the key person behind its AI technology, stepped down from his position. LU’s departure casts the company’s prospects and AI strategy in doubt.
LU joined the company in 2017 and helped Baidu recover from a series of notorious medical ads scandals. He also got the company back on track to focus on AI technologies.
Robin Li, Baidu founder and CEO, said on Monday in a town hall meeting that the company’s strategy to transform itself into an AI company remains unchanged.
Baidu, one of Chinese “BAT” triumvirate that also includes Tencent and Alibaba, has been trying to take its AI technologies overseas.
In January, Baidu took its self-driving technologies to Singapore, teaming up with Singapore’s Asia Mobility Industries to launch Apollo Southeast Asia, a USD 200 million fund in the region that helps Baidu commercialize its autonomous driving platform in Southeast Asia.