JD.com, one of China’s largest e-commerce platforms, is launching an accelerator program, AI Catapult, for AI and blockchain startups. Six blockchain startups have been chosen in the program’s first cohort, including Bluzelle, a Singapore-based company provides data storage and management services for blockchain apps.
Founded in 2007 by LIU Qiangdong in Beijing, the e-commerce platform is one of the two largest B2C online retailers in China by revenue and transaction volume. Although the company may be lesser known beyond its home country, it is a powerful rival to Tmall which is run by Jack Ma’s e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba. JD reported approximately USD100 billion (RMB658.2 billion) in gross merchandise value.
The AI Catapult program is expected to help the Beijing-based company boost efficiency in its logistics network and supply chain which are vital to its foray into the offline fresh-food retailing. The company has opened its first offline fresh-food store 7Fresh in January 2018 in Beijing, adopting a similar approach of Hema Xiansheng, Alibaba’s flagship attempt in offline retail. Out of over 3000 SKUs in 7Fresh, 75% are fresh food. JD is backed by Tencent, a long-time archrival of Alibaba.
JD partnered up with Tencent since last year to catch up and challenge Alibaba’s new retail strategy which is in full swing.
With the AI Catapult program, JD.com also seeks to leverage on blockchain technologies to achieve better food tracking. “Whole-process traceability is not a new concept but blockchain makes it really possible,” YU Yongli, president of JD’s supply chain research unit told Bitcoin Magazine. “Throughout the world, and particularly in China, consumers increasingly want to know how their products are sourced, and JD is dedicated to using technology to promote complete transparency.”
The program is not JD.com’s first attempt to embrace the cutting edge technology. Last December, JD.com, Walmart, IBM and Tsinghua University National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies, announced a collaboration in blockchain food safety aiming to renovate the Chinese food supply chain by adding more transparency. On Feb 1st 2018, JD.com’s logistics arm joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), marking the first Chinese logistics company to join the alliance that includes FedEx. Together with Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the company also operates an AI lab dubbed SAIL JD AI Research Institute.
AI Catapult’s first cohort includes six companies: Bankorus, CanYa, Bluzelle, Nuggets, Republic Protocol and Devery. They will enjoy help from the Chinese company in both marketing and international expansion.