Monday, March 30, 2020

China's Online Learing Market Surges: 51Talk Inside View

The online education market is booming in China, as the coronavirus has kept schools and campuses closed.
One beneficiary of this trend is China Online Education, otherwise known as 51Talk. The Beijing-based company that is listed on the NYSE has been growing very fast. It's poised to continue on that growth curve as awareness grows about how online learning can work.
Silicon Dragon interviewed CFO Min Xu to learn more about how 51Talk is keeping ahead in China. Edtech is increasing globally by about 11 percent annually and projected to reach $341 billion by 2025, according to HolonIQ in its Global Education Outlook.  China's market is growing the fastest worldwide, by 20 percent per year. The sector has been attracting loads of venture capital investment, reaching nearly $1.7 billion in 2019 across 105 deals in the U.S., according to edtech tracker EdSurge. China claims four of the five largest edtech investments in the world.
Big Op in China
In China, a large opportunity beckons since penetration is still low, in the single digits, according to Xu.
That is changing rapidly as more students and teachers get used to remote learning.
At 51Talk, first quarter 2020 revenues are poised to surge 40 percent over Q1 in 2019, he noted. It's currently delivering 140,000 lessons per day at its peak and so far "the system has survived the traffic," said the CFO, who is based in the U.S. and speaks perfect English.
Moreover, if current trends continue, the edtech company that went public in 2016 could break even this year, he added. On its board are two leading venture capitalists who backed the company: Hurst Lin, general partner of DCM and Wei Li, an executive director at Shunwei Capital.
Key to continued growth in the market is differentiation with other contenders in this space in China including AI-driven edtech company LAIX and VIPKid.
The core business at 51Talk is K-12, one-on-one lessons in English language learning and focused on smaller cities, outside the ring of Shanghai and Beijing unlike VIPKid. Looking to increase efficiency, 51Talk plans to also emphasize small classes of four to six students with lessons taught by Filipino teachers.
Investors are paying attention, and the stock price has gone up from $4 to $36 in a 10-month period ending early March, before the big overall market drop.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

US-China Team Up to Provide At-Home Testing Kits for Coronavirus

Scanwell Health team led by Stephen Chen
In another sign of US-China collaboration in fighting the coronavirus outbreak, LA-based startup Scanwell Health is licensing technology from a Chinese company to distribute at-home testing kits for COVID-19.
Pending approval via the FDA's emergency use authorization, the kits should be available in the U.S. within two months. The test kits, produced by Beijing-based biotechnology Bioventure-backed company Innovita, have been used in China clinical trials at five institutions for help in diagnosing COVID-19.
The test kit works this way. A patient completes an online questionnaire that is evaluated by Scanwell partner Lemonaid Health, a telemedicine provider in San Francisco with online doctors and a mail order pharmacy. Upon evaluation, an at-home test kit can be mailed out to a patient the next business day. The patient does the test at home in as little as 15 minutes and securely shares the results with a doctor or nurse via the Scanwell app. 
The test detects antibodies against the novel coronavirus in the blood, which indicates that an individual has been exposed and developed antibodies against the virus. Antibody tests are helpful in tracking the spread of the virus because they also identify mild or asymptomatic carriers and those who have been previously infected.
While the gold standard test is DNA based, these at-home tests gives patients personalized guidance in a safe environment while limiting exposure and allowing for wide-scale testing, said Stephen Chen, founder and CO of Scanwell Health. "We hope that these home-use test kits will ease the burden on healthcare centers, so that they can focus on the highest severity cases," added Chen.
Scanwell, a developer of smartphone apps for at-home diagnostics, expects to roll out the kit-testing app in New York, California and Washington first, upon approval. The company was seed funded in 2019 by DCM, Founders Fund, Mayfield and YCombinator

The South Rises to Combat the Coronavirus

University of Alabama at Birmingham
Researchers from all over the world are scrambling to find a way to fight the highly infectious coronavirus that first appeared in China and has spread internationally with more than 300,000 cases.
In Birmingham, Alabama - far away from epicenters of the outbreak - the medical community led by the University of Alabama and science research organization Southern Research have joined the race in developing coronavirus treatments.
Research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has been at the forefront of developing a drug, remdesivir, that's now being used to treat select infected patients in the U.S. and China.
The university, under a five-year, $37.5 million grant in a public and private partnership with several academic institutions and Silicon Valley-based biotech company Gilead Sciences, has been working to jointly study and develop treatments for high-priority infectious diseases such as the coronaviruses that caused SARS, MERS and the novel COVID-19.
Drug trials of remdesivir on select patients in China with COVID-19 showed promising results. Working with the World Health Organization, the Chinese government and Gilead Sciences, clinical trials are underway in both China and the U.S. to determine whether remdesivir is both safe and effective in treating the novel coronavirus.  It's an indication that cross-border collaboration could stop the outbreak. 
New vaccine from Southern resource
Meanwhile, Birmingham's Southern Research group will begin testing potential vaccines against coronavirus in collaboration with Tonix Pharmaceuticals, a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company in New York.
The new vaccine, TNX-1800, based on proprietary research at Tonix, was initially developed to prevent smallpox but has proven to effective in combating other types of infectious diseases.
So far, there aren't any vaccines to protect against the highly infectious COVID-19, which causes serious complications and has led to significant rates of mortality.
The drug development division of the non-profit Southern Research, is a leader in infectious disease research and possible therapeutics for emerging biological threats, with more than 400 scientists and engineers across four divisions that have helped to win the war against cancer and fight HIV. 
Tests are also underway in Seattle for a vaccine developed by the NIH and biotech company Moderna Inc. in Massachusetts. See related post on China's CanSio Biologics, which is also carrying out R&D for a new coronavirus vaccine.  

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Chinese Vaccine Backed by US VC Joins Coronavirus Fight

One of the first two vaccines being tested in patients to fight the coronavirus comes from a Chinese company, CanSino Biologics, that Qiming Venture has invested in. 
The vaccine that's been developed joins the human trials initiated in Seattle to fight the disease caused by the coronavirus infection. This is China's first COVID-19 vaccine candidate entering the clinical research phase. 
As Qiming partner Helen Wong explained it, the cross-border venture firm led the pre-revenue company's Series B financing in 2015 and participated in the next funding round in 2017.  The Chinese biotech company became the first vaccine stock to be listed on the Main Board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2019.
The vaccine, co-developed by the Hong Kong-listed company and China's Academy of Military Medical Sciences, will undergo clinical trials in Wuhan, the original epicenter of the outbreak.
Here's more info on how several Qiming portfolio companies are fighting the coronavirus outbreak. 

Monday, March 2, 2020

Robots Called Into Action In China Amid Cornavirus Outbreak

Chinese companies are rushing to deploy robots and automation technology as the coronavirus has spread throughout the nation. 
As some 100 million factory workers return to China’s automotive, consumer 
electronics and smartphone makers, one clear, longer-term impact will be an emphasis on robotics and automation. Robotics can reduce labor costs and increase productivity — and prevent a recurrence of future plant shutdowns.
Over the past several years, the world’s second-largest economy has been undergoing a so-called “robotics revolution.” Now, the impetus is greater than ever to embrace automation or be left behind. China has become the world’s largest market for industrial robotics and the fastest-growing market worldwide, surging 21% to $5.4 billion in 2019, while global sales hit $16.5 billion, according to the International Federation of Robotics in Frankfurt.
See Rebecca Fannin's article published March 2, 2020 at CNBC on robotics and the coronavirus impact. 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Tech Titans of China Wins a Best Book Award

My new book, Tech Titans of China, has won a Silver Medal for best international business book of 2020.

I am thrilled to receive this recognition of my work.
Please see the announcement of this award from Axiom, honoring best business books and authors and of course, their publishers. Hachette's Nicholas Brealey in Boston and London published my book globally.