Baidu, the China-based search engine giant, said earlier today on its official WeChat account that it has established a 20 billion yuan ($3 billion) investment fund that the company will use to fund mid- and late-stage deals in the internet sector, with check sizes ranging from $50 million to $100 million.
Reuters, which first reported the news, notes the move looks like an attempt to future-proof the company as regional rivals Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holdings seize more of the time of mobile users in China, and all three grapple with how to compete on the AI, AR, and VR front.
In fact, a JPMorgan analyst Alex Yao warned in August that Baidu doesn’t have any visible growth drivers beyond search for the next few years unless the company can make a breakthrough in high-tech initiatives such as AI.
Baidu doesn’t take the threat lightly. Just yesterday, the company introduced an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot to connect with patients and field medical questions for doctors.
Baidu also last month announced Baidu Venture, a $200 million fund to invest in those three emerging fields of technology.
In fact, the company has been actively investing in startups for years. CrunchBase alone shows 49 bets, including investments in the consumer finance company Circle and the underwriting technologies company ZestFinance.
It also created a deep-learning research institute in 2013 and has been reportedly investing about 15 percent of its revenue in research.
As for Baidu Capital, the capital isn’t coming from Baidu alone but also from large insurance funds, securities companies and others and it will pull in two or three managing partners from the investment industry, according to the company.
Where it will be invested is anyone’s guess, but one safe bet is new car tech. Baidu has reportedly been working on autonomous vehicles since 2014. The company has said, too, that it plans to introduce automated public transportation services in China within the next two years.