DIY robotics kit maker Makeblock seals US$44 million in funding as it seeks to expand overseas and in China

Funding comes as China drives economy towards science and technology

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 11:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2018, 10:21pm

Shenzhen-based robotics start-up Makeblock said it has closed 300 million yuan (US$44 million) in Series C funding, led by CICC’s direct investment platform CICC Alpha, valuing the company at 2.5 billion yuan.

Unlike ready-made robots, Makeblock’s do-it-yourself kits have to be assembled and students can then control them by writing a program. Although the company is little known outside the field, children at more than 20,000 schools worldwide may get their introduction to coding by playing with the company’s Lego-like robotics kits.

One of those schools is AltSchool, the Silicon Valley education start-up founded by a former Google executive and backed by investors including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. And 7,000 middle schools in France and over 50 per cent of middle schools in Hong Kong use Makeblock’s products.

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Makeblock is among a number of Chinese start-ups riding a wave of interest and demand for education about robotics, which is seen as an essential force behind building the workforce of tomorrow. China has made the development of artificial intelligence (AI) – an advanced form of machine science – a national priority as it continues to push the economy towards one led by science and technology.

“The trade war between the US and China has had some negative impact on our business, for example the tax on some products sold to the US has increased. But I do not think it will stop our investment to expand in the US market,” Wang Jianjun, founder and chief executive of Makeblock, said in an interview in Shenzhen. “The competition in China is stronger than overseas and it’s more of a policy-driven market, with a lot of robot makers transferring to the education sector.”

Makeblock’s biggest market is the US and 70 per cent of sales were derived from overseas countries last year. This is expected to decrease to 60 per cent this year while its share of the domestic China market rises to 40 per cent.

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The new funding will mainly be used to boost marketing efforts as well as for research and development, said Wang, who has 500 employees and subsidiary companies in America, the Netherlands, Japan and Hong Kong. “I feel investors are now more cautious on project selection [compared with their attitude years ago],” he added.

Makeblock plans to launch new products in October, is working with over 1,600 channel partners globally and has forged strategic partnerships with the likes of Japan’s SoftBank C&S.