Shen­zhen startup has AI dreams of go­ing truly global

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By ZHOU MO in Shen­zhen sally@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

When Matt Scott ar­rived in Bei­jing to work as an engi­neer at Mi­crosoft Re­search in 2006, he never thought he would still be in China 11 years later.

But now the 35-year-old from New York is the co-founder of an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence startup in one of China’s in­no­va­tioin hubs in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince.

“Be­ing in China is re­ally im­por­tant when it comes to AI,” he said. “If you look at the num­bers, such as pub­li­ca­tions on top­ics like deep learn­ing, it’s China that is lead­ing the way.”

In­no­va­tion is in Scott’s DNA and fu­eled his de­sire to set up Ma­long Tech­nolo­gies, which spe­cial­izes in AI-based vis­ual prod­uct recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy.

Prod­uct AI, which was de­vel­oped by his com­pany, en­ables on­line cus­tomers to find spe­cial­ized prod­ucts in­stantly from a pho­to­graph.

“The prob­lem we are try­ing to solve is to build a tech­nol­ogy to en­able a com­puter to see prod­ucts just like a per­son does, and make that tech­nol­ogy ac­ces­si­ble for com­pa­nies,” Scott, who is also chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer, ex­plained.

To il­lus­trate that, fash­ion de­sign­ers can now or­der fab­ric pat­terns on­line quickly in­stead of hav­ing to de­scribe them or search end­lessly for the right prod­uct.

Uliaobao.com, a tex­tile e-com­merce plat­form, has Prod­uct AI em­bed­ded, al­low­ing clients to find pat­terns they want just by tak­ing a pic­ture and up­load­ing it to the web­site.

This tech­nol­ogy has been picked up by 100 com­pa­nies in a range of in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing fash­ion, fur­ni­ture design, cars, tex­tile and wine with 100 mil­lion cus­tomers.

For Scott, it has been quite a jour­ney since start­ing up Ma­long Tech­nolo­gies in 2014.

Be­fore that he worked for eight years at Mi­crosoft Re­search, where he met his Chi­nese part­ner Huang Din­g­long.

They both be­lieved that AI would be the next big thing, so they rolled out a busi­ness.

So far, the move has paid off as the com­pany now em­ploy­ees 59 staff and fin­ished its A-round fund­ing a year ago, rais­ing 62 mil­lion yuan ($9.2 mil­lion) from investors.

Fi­nan­cial data is scarce, but Scott stressed that the com­pany has “ex­cel­lent rev­enue and cash flows”. Still, he did not want to re­port the ex­act num­bers just yet.

“China is fast mov­ing,” he said. “It is an in­no­va­tive place. And when you are mak­ing an in­no­va­tive com­pany, you want to be part of an in­no­va­tive en­vi­ron­ment.

China is fast mov­ing. It is an in­no­va­tive place.” Matt Scott, a 35-year-old Amer­i­can and co-founder of an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence startup in Shen­zhen, Guang­dong prov­ince

It’s like an ecosys­tem.

“In this field of AI, data is, for ex­am­ple, one of the key things,” he added. “(In China,) you can get data quicker, (you can get) more peo­ple, more or­ga­ni­za­tions and more busi­nesses.”

There are other rea­sons, of course for set­ting up in Shen­zhen. This boom town for tech startups also has a great deal of tra­di­tional in­dus­tries, which are ideal for ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tech­nol­ogy.

“We want to trans­form tra­di­tional in­dus­tries, so they are more ef­fi­cient,” Scott said.

Al­ready Ma­long Tech­nolo­gies has started work­ing with Chi­nat­esta Tex­tile Test­ing & Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion Ser­vices to up­grade its “test­ing process”.

AI tech­nol­ogy will help au­to­mate the sys­tem and speed up the process.

In the near fu­ture, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence will rev­o­lu­tion­ize in­dus­try.

Fig­ures re­leased by con­sul­tancy iRe­search in Bei­jing showed that the global AI mar­ket is ex­pected to top 119 bil­lion yuan by 2020. This rep­re­sents a 19.7 per­cent an­nual growth rate.

China’s AI sec­tor will be worth 9.1 bil­lion yuan by 2020 and it will rise by more than 50 per­cent yearon-year.

As for Scott and Ma­long Tech­nolo­gies, the propects are look­ing good.

He be­came the first ex­pat en­tre­pre­neur to win a Shen­zhen Yan­tian district award for his work on AI and his busi­ness is boom­ing.

“The fact that I am in China is not a prob­lem, but ac­tu­ally a ben­e­fit be­cause of the talent here,” he said. “I am fo­cus­ing on the cus­tomer and the prod­uct.

“The big­gest chal­lenge I face is to build a great prod­uct,” he added, as well as find­ing the right “prod­uct mar­ket fit”.

Scott also be­lieves ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tech­nol­ogy will change the world and he is de­ter­mined to ride this wave of dis­cov­ery.

“We be­lieve we can be­come an AI gi­ant in a to­tally new type of sec­tor,” he said.

“AI can be­come a world­chang­ing phe­nom­e­non and we want to be a lead­ing com­pany not just in China, but on the world stage,” Scott added.

“Our vi­sion is to trans­form tra­di­tional in­dus­tries,” he said.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Matt Scott sits in his of­fice in Shen­zhen, work­ing on his AI re­search and devel­op­ment busi­ness.

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