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SoftBank is said to mull investing in China robotics startup

Thursday, July 13, 2017 - 14:24

2017-07-06T034907Z_721882155_RC1752A4BC70_RTRMADP_3_SOFTBANK-GROUP-BONDS.JPG
SoftBank Group Corp is in talks to invest in Makeblock Co, a Chinese maker of DIY robotics, people familiar with the matter said.

[HONG KONG] SoftBank Group Corp is in talks to invest in Makeblock Co, a Chinese maker of DIY robotics, people familiar with the matter said.

Makeblock is seeking to raise about US$60 million in a series C round by the end of this year as it targets a doubling of its valuation to US$400 million, the people said, asking not to be identified talking about private plans. The figures are preliminary and could vary depending on negotiations, the people said.

SoftBank and Makeblock declined to comment.

Makeblock is competing with a coterie of Chinese startups, as well as Pearson Plc, Lego Group and Sony Corp, who all want a slice of a learning industry that focuses on science, technology, engineering and maths. So-called STEM-education could become a US$15 billion market by 2020, according to Beijing-based consultancy JMD Education.

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Shenzhen-based Makeblock already works with SoftBank- the two partnered this month to offer a DIY drone, and the Japanese company distributes its educational robotics kits.

STEM education, which employs a problem-based approach to education, is tapping into Chinese parents' craze for their children to learn coding and robotics. Makeblock has created a local competition equivalent to the Intel Corp-backed RoboRave contest.

Founded in 2013 by aircraft-design major Jasen Wang, Makeblock sells kits of mechanical parts and electronic modules that can cost as much as US$800 to robot hobbyists and educators. Its user base grew to 2 million by July from 600,000 in February, with about 70 per cent of its revenue generated from overseas. Apart from Sequoia Capital, Shenzhen-based hardware startup accelerator Hax is also a backer.

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