Intel VC funds target Chinese startups in wearables, IoT

Intel is investing in companies that develop smartwatches, iris readers and communication equipment

Long dominant in PCs, Intel is using its vast cash resources to chase hot new product categories, investing in up-and-coming Chinese companies that could help expand its presence in the mobile, wearable and Internet of Things markets.

The chip maker is dishing out $28 million to five small companies including EyeSmart, which develops iris-recognition hardware for wearables and mobile devices, Guangdong Appscom, which makes wearables, and LeWa Technology Shanghai, which makes a version of Android for Chinese smartphones.

Intel relies on Chinese companies for quick and low-cost device conceptualization and development. The company earlier this year established the $100 million Intel Capital China Smart Device Innovation Fund for wearables and IoT companies. The five companies are the fund's first recipients.

Intel wants to make headway in new, growing markets such as wearables. It sells the Basis smartwatch, for example, and its technology is being used in a biometric headset and smart jewelry.

With the emergence of Apple Pay, which uses fingerprints to authorize credit card payments, biometric user authentication is drawing interest. EyeSmart's iris-recognition technology, meanwhile, essentially allows eyes to function as passwords. The authentication technology could be used on mobile devices, payment terminals, smart homes and wearables.

LeWa said its version of Android has been preloaded in products from small device makers and is compliant with Chinese government standards.

Guangdong Appscomm has developed smartwatches, bracelets and heart rate monitors. One interesting product is a Bluetooth smartwatch that advises Muslim users about prayer times and the direction of Mecca, toward which prayers are usually made.

The other recipients of the Intel funds include Shanghai Ailiao Information Technology, a mobile gaming communication services provider, and Shenzhen Fibocom Industrial Development, a provider of location-based communications services and telematics hardware maker.

Since 1998, Intel Capital, the company's main venture capital fund, has invested more than $700 million in 120 Chinese companies.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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