Chinese investors are seeing opportunities in non-tech companies that stand to benefit from the country’s embrace of the so-called industrial internet amid a planned shift to a service-driven economy.
Steel, mining, construction, and chemicals, as well as livestock, are some of the industries in urgent need of technology applications, according to investors who attended the Chinese Investors Summit in Shenzhen on Tuesday. Companies that can help traditional enterprises upgrade and equip themselves with technologies and internet-based applications are worthy investments, they said.
The world’s manufacturing powerhouse for the past few decades, China is now determined to use the industrial internet to upgrade all its industries at a time when the country’s biggest competitive advantage—its large consumer base—is on the decline as economic growth slows and the population ages.
Seen as a new growth driver in the world’s second largest economy, the industrial internet refers to the broad adoption by industries of technologies such as next-generation wireless networks, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), and the so-called Internet of Things (IoT).
“Investments into 2B, serving enterprises [as opposed to 2C serving consumers], require deep understanding of the industries,” said Yang Rong, a partner with investment firm Black Hole. “The process [of applying technologies like 5G and cloud computing] helps traditional companies pursue higher levels of efficiency, productivity, and performance.”
The goal of bringing hi-tech to enterprises is also supported by national strategies such as Made in China 2025 and Internet Plus, which promote the pairing of the mobile internet, cloud computing, big data, and IoT with modern manufacturing.
“In the next five years there will be huge demand for enterprise services,” said Wang Xin, executive director at Yun Shi Capital.
“However, it will not see the explosive growth that happened in the 2C business. The 2B models cannot get attractive dividends from China’s large population. Their growth will be more stable.”
The industrial internet became a buzz phrase late last year after Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings said the next 20 years of internet development would center on services to businesses, shifting from the focus on consumers over the past two decades.
Calls by Tencent executives to embrace the industrial internet came on the heels of an open letter by co-founder and chairman Pony Ma Huateng, who said the company wanted to enable greater connectivity across Chinese industry, leveraging the capabilities and expertise it built to serve the more than 1 billion users of its consumer-facing platforms such as WeChat.
Data tracked by Tencent shows that services addressing specific industries remain the most popular target among investors, with nine such projects securing funding last week.
The largest, at USD 100 million and led by Sequoia China, Tencent, and IDG, went to Shenzhen Smart Manufacturing Software Development for its work in applying cloud computing, big data and IoT to improve productivity at textile factories.
However, the overall value of venture capital investment in China in the second quarter tumbled 77% year on year to USD 9.4 billion as funding dried up amid US-China trade tensions and a slowing global economy. In the same period the number of deals roughly halved to 692, according to market research firm Preqin.
The cooling down comes after an extended tech boom in China which has been producing unicorns – private start-ups valued at USD 1 billion or above – at a faster pace than the US over the past two years, although most Chinese unicorns achieve their status by leveraging access to the country’s huge consumer market rather than engaging in fundamental innovation.
This article first appeared on the South China Morning Post.