COMB+ announces a $77M fund to help AI startups enter China

Artificial intelligence is a hot topic in the tech industry with China — alongside the U.S. — emerging as a key market for talent, innovation and companies. While many AI firms head to the U.S. or set up operations Stateside, China is a harder market to crack for overseas companies.

That’s where a new fund wants to help. China-based accelerator firm COMB+ is launching a €65 million ($77 million) fund aimed at helping promising international AI firms enter the Middle Kingdom.

The fund, which was announced at Slush in Helsinki this week, is run by COMB+ and the Beijing Institute of Collaborative Innovation (BICI). COMB+ launched its Sino Track accelerator program last year, which is based in Beijing and Helsinki and helps early-stage firms grow in China, and this is the second part of its strategy.

So far more than half of the €65 million target has been raised, COMB+ CEO Leo Zhu told TechCrunch via interpreters in an interview. He didn’t name any confirmed LPs but said the fund is backed by government funds, government institutions, private enterprises and big corporates most of which are from China.

Zhu said he hopes to spark interest from LPs in Finland, which is a big focus of both Sino Track and the fund. Some 19 startups from the Nordic region have gone through the program, and the region under the radar for the fund investments.

“We admire [Finland’s] advanced technology,” Zhu said. “Engineers would typically spend five to eight years to understood broader technology opportunities, we have a huge market in China and would like to take these advanced technologies there.”

The fund also hopes to tap into China-Finland government collaboration policies, which include technology cooperation.

Deal-wise, COMB+ is looking at a typical check size of €1-2 million ($1.2-$2.4 million) with follow-on capital available. At most, Zhu said, individual investments won’t top €5 million ($6 million) per deal.

“We are looking for startups with a proven business model in local market who would like to go to the Chinese market,” he said through translators. “We can help them further develop and upgrade their tech so that they can apply it to the Chinese market.”