UBTech, a maker of humanoid robots backed by Chinese technology group Tencent, is readying an initial public offering in what would be a rare coup for China’s markets, which have struggled to attract large tech listings.
The seven-year-old robotics company was valued at $5bn when it raised $820m in May last year. It turned profitable last year, according to chief brand officer Michael Tam, and two months ago changed its corporate structure.
“The next step is to list,” he said in an interview. “We are preparing for the public markets . . . We have not made a decision yet but we are much more likely to raise money in the mainland market.”
UBTech attracted early interest from investors for its focus on robotics and artificial intelligence — hot sectors at a time when China is investing heavily in a bid to lead the world in AI and create a $150bn industry by 2030.
So far, however, its robots are mostly used as educational toys — such as the Jimu Robot Mythical UnicornBot Building and Coding STEM Learning Kit — and in the services industry, helping shoppers, travellers and football fans navigate their surroundings.
Combined valuation of applicants for listing on Shanghai tech board
Partnerships include a deal with the Manchester City football club.
Beijing, long irked by the overseas listings of tech champions from Alibaba and Tencent as well as smaller start-ups, has sought to woo them back.
A bid to launch China depositary receipts, a new type of security that would allow overseas-listed companies to list in China, flopped and Beijing is now attempting to lure start-ups with a new technology board.
The mood has shifted slightly against the backdrop of the US-China trade and tech war, with its related talk of self-sufficiency in capital markets as well as supply chains.
More than 100 tech companies, from artificial intelligence software developers to biotech groups, have applied to list on the Shanghai technology board, aiming to raise an aggregate $16bn.
Alibaba is planning a secondary listing in Hong Kong, closer to home than its 2014 IPO in New York, and facial recognition groups SenseTime and Megvii are also reassessing plans for international IPOs this year.
Mr Tam said UBTech had not made a final decision on which board it might list. He said the group was still negotiating with bankers to advise on the deal.
Last year the Shenzhen-based group sold 2,150 service robots to easyHome, a chain of furniture stores across China.
Mr Tam said its robots could also be found in museums, where they provide contextual and other information on art pieces.
Shenzhen-based UBTech has labs and offices across China and globally, including in Los Angeles and the UK. It is now expanding offices in south-east Asia and Latin America, he added.