China’s much-anticipated Science and Technology Innovation board officially launched in Shanghai today, marking Beijing’s major step in drawing high-potential tech companies to list at home.
The new Star Market, first announced by President Xi Jinping in November, is expected to be a key fundraising avenue for tech companies from an array of stages, given its criteria (link in Chinese) are less stringent than other domestic boards. Beijing has over the past year encouraged local firms to become more self-reliant in producing chips and other core technologies as an escalating trade war threatens to cut China off the U.S. supply chain.
The new startup board began taking applications in late March and have so far received applications from 122 companies, according to information from the Shanghai Stock Exchange.
The tech bourse opened as the Hong Kong Stock Exchange next door got a big boost. China’s e-commerce titan Alibaba has filed confidentially for a second listing in Hong Kong, according to reports from Bloomberg and Reuters on Thursday, citing sources. A spokesperson for Alibaba declined to comment.
Rumors of Alibaba’s potential IPO have swirled for months, but the Hangzhou-based firm has recently accelerated its application process as the U.S.-China trade war intensifies, a person familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
Other Chinese firms that want to be closer to home now have another option to raise equity. Through the new tech board, China will allow loss-making companies to list on an exchange for the first time. This will likely draw promising pre-profit tech firms that would have otherwise chosen to list in New York for more lax regulations.
For example, unprofitable companies with an income of at least 300 million yuan ($43.43 million) from the previous year are allowed to list in Shanghai if they have a minimum market capitalization of 2 billion yuan and generated a cash flow of no less than 100 million yuan over the past three years.
The board will be the first to have adopted a “registration-based” IPO system designed to streamline applications and limit the securities authority’s influence over pricing and timing of a flotation.
Companies with a dual-class shareholding structure, which has proven popular with a range of tech giants, including Facebook, Alphabet, Alibaba and JD.com, will be eligible to apply. Alibaba famously snubbed the Hong Kong Stock Exchange after the bourse rejected its application over its corporate structure. HKEX recently dropped its dual-class ban and admitted that Alibaba’s decision to list in New York had compelled it to rethink the restriction.
Applicants that adopt the variable interest entities (VIE) structure, a controversial framework that many Chinese internet firms use to operate as domestic companies controlled by foreign entities, are also welcome to apply.