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Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund Injects HK$10 M in HKAI Lab

Alibaba, SenseTime and Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation launch the HKAI Lab; Alibaba and SenseTime will be providing tech support. 

Technology and innovation are important drivers to sustainable and diversified economic development. In line with this, the Alibaba Group, SenseTime, and Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) recently launched their Hong Kong Artificial Intelligence Lab or HKAI Lab, on May 21. The launch coincided with President Xi Jinping's recent decision to grant local scientists with greater access to national-level funding, which was once only available to Mainland Chinese researchers. The President has also directed state agencies to assist the City in its bid to become an international hub. 

HKAI Lab is a non-profit initiative dedicated to furthering AI development using advanced technology and expertise. The Lab is also aimed at assisting startups, and in drawing together academia, scientists, and entrepreneurs who have an ardor for innovation and shaping a better future. The Lab will be co-managed by SenseTime and the Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund (AHKEF), a non-profit Fund established by Alibaba. 

During the launch, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said that she was pleased to witness Hong Kong's collaborative spirit in the tech sector. "Today, I am pleased to witness the MOU signing for the establishment of the HKAI Lab by Alibaba Group, SenseTime, and HKSTP. This Lab is significant because it shows that the industry, academia, and government has strengthened their collaboration in regards to innovation and technology. Hong Kong has always been famous for having a solid tech foundation and for being Asia's research hub, with our universities receiving high praise for their AI research efforts. The Hong Kong government's blueprint to turn the city into an innovation and technology (I&T) hub includes the establishment of a research cluster on AI and robotics; we will also be funding world-renowned research institutes, or non-profit organizations to conduct research and development (R&D) projects in Hong Kong." She also expressed her optimism that Hong would be able to attract top-notch talent and lead collaborations, as well as R&D efforts in the realm of innovation and techology; the City would also be able to better nurture emerging startups. 

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor stated that the signing of an MOU for the establishment of the HKAI Lab signifies the strengthening of the collaboration between the industry, academia, and government in regards to innovation and technology. 

Starting this September, HKAI Lab will have an accelerator program that will incubate more AI-related startups. The six-month program will be accepting 2 cohorts a year of about 10 startups each. In addition to funding and tech resources, participating startups will also receive mentorship, rent-free workspace, and networking opportunities. Selected startups will receive seed funding of US$100 K from the AHKEF in exchange for a 6% equity stake. 

Alibaba and SenseTime to provide tech support

The Lab will be outfitted with supercomputers and tech development by Alibaba's research institute, DAMO Academy. The Academy was established by Alibaba in October 2017, with Executive Chairman Jack Ma announcing that it has a RMB100 B (US$15.7 B) fund for the R&D of technology; the Fund aims to solve the problems faced in creating an inclusive world economy, ensuring sustainable development, and creating health and happiness for the people of tomorrow. 

Alibaba Cloud will also be providing technical support, giving access to their elastic GPU service as well as their machine learning platform, to their participants. Concurrently, SenseTime will be helping the startups by providing access to their own deep learning platform. The companies will simultaneously receive guidance from top scientists, entrepreneurs and professors in the AI industry. Additionally, HKSTP will be giving their support as well as rent-free workspace for the duration of the incubation program.

HKAI Lab’s advisory board includes Jeff Zhang, Chief Technology Officer of the Alibaba Group, and Head of the DAMO Academy; Tang Xiaoou, Founder of SenseTime; Cindy Chow, Executive Director of the AHKEF; and Shang Hailong, Managing Director of SenseTime Hong Kong.

Promoting the development of hi-tech talent in Hong Kong

“Alibaba sees AI as a fundamental technology that will make a difference to society,” said Joe Tsai, Executive Vice Chairman of the Alibaba Group. “We are very pleased to be collaborating with SenseTime and HKSTP to promote the development of AI in Hong Kong, as well as to support the securing of Hong Kong’s status as Asia’s research hub. We envision the HKAI lab to be an open platform, where researchers, startups, and industry players can collaborate and build a culture of innovation.”

Joe Tsai, Executive Vice Chairman of the Alibaba Group, hopes that the HKAI Lab will promote the development of AI in Hong Kong.

Tang Xiaoou, Founder of SenseTime said, “Through this partnership with Alibaba and HKSTP, we are hopeful that the Greater Bay Area can be transformed into a global innovation hub. The Lab will bridge the gap between academic research and the research needs of the industry, thereby promoting more collaboration efforts between Hong Kong and Mainland China. We aspire to create new opportunities for young people in Hong Kong, via this platform and leading AI solutions from SenseTime.”

Tang Xiaouu, Founder of SenseTime is an AI expert. He hopes that the HKAI Lab can empower more SMEs to grow through the use of cutting-edge smart technology.

“AI is one of the key areas of development for HKSTP,” said Fanny Law, Chairwoman of HKSTP. “In the Science Park, there are currently several companies developing AI for a wide range of applications, including smart cities, medtech, customer service robots, fintech, and smart logistics. Today, we are honoured to witness the establishment of the HKAI Lab. This collaboration builds on the respective strengths of Alibaba, SenseTime and HKSTP, and also serves to showcase the partnership we have between the industry, academia, research and public bodies, and our collective aim to drive innovation and technology,” she said.

Five efforts to support R&D for AI in Hong Kong

Through this accelerator program, selected startups will receive support for five main areas:

  1. Capital: The AHKEF will invest US$100 K in each startup, in exchange for 6% equity
  2. Tech platform: Participating startups will be able to conduct R&D projects using state-of-the-art computers and deep learning platforms from Alibaba and SenseTime
  3. Network: HKAI Lab’s team of experts include AI scientists, as well as renowned professors and tech experts that have extensive knowledge and experience to share. Startups will also have more opportunities to reach out to venture capital firms or strategic investors
  4. Cloud services: Alibaba Cloud will be providing each startup with cloud services and tech support worth US$10 K. Simultaneously, HKSTP will be giving the companies technical management, promotion of their individual businesses, and development support
  5. Workspace: Thanks to HKSTP, the startups will be able to work in the HKSTP office during the program for free.

To be eligible for the program, startups must be incorporated in Hong Kong for less than 3 years. The majority of the company’s founders must also be permanent residents of the City, and their businesses should be mainly operating in Hong Kong as well. Additionally, founding members need to hold more than 50% of the company’s shares, and at least 50% of the employees’ work must be related to AI.

Joining forces to promote technological innovation

The AHKEF aims to help entrepreneurs realize their dreams and their vision for their businesses and communities by providing capital, guidance, and internship opportunities. Alongside the AHKEF is Alibaba Cloud, China’s largest clod service provider; they provide cutting-edge AI technology to their consumers, as well as big data analytics. Together with the DAMO Academy, Alibaba Cloud has assembled a team of professionals that are working to promote the development of Hong Kong’s AI technology.

The HKAI Lab will support the startups’ R&D projects on AI technology in five aspects: capital, technology, platforms, cloud services, and workspace.

SenseTime is an AI startup that was founded by Professor Tang Xiaouu, Chair of the Information Engineering department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong; 11 of his students, who are researching computer vision and deep learning, are also in the company. It is the world’s highest-valued AI startup, and Hong Kong’s first tech unicorn. Professor Tang’s expertise in AI includes knowledge on image processing, facial recognition, autopilot, augmented reality (AR), and deep neural networks. He also has extensive experience in algorithms, computing, and big data.

The company was founded in HKSTP in October 2014, and achieved unicorn status last year, after receiving US$410 M for their Series B round. SenseTime raised an additional US$600 M in an Alibaba-led round that was announced this past April. The amount set a new record for the largest fundin round by an AI company worldwide, and indicates that investors have great confidence in the startup’s technological capabilities and its future plans.

Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) is dedicated to transforming Hong Kong into a global technology hub and building a vibrant innovation and technology ecosystem that links different stakeholders and nurtures tech talent, while promoting collaboration between the stakeholders, thus accelerating the industrialization of innovative technology in the process.

(Source: Alibaba News)