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Alibaba Cloud looks to drive its technology ecosystem with startup innovation contest

Alibaba Cloud is hosting its next Create@Alibaba contest as it looks for innovative products from startups

Cloud provider Alibaba is looking to access the latest technologies by hosting its fifth Create@Alibaba innovation contest.

The Chinese business has called for startups’ ideas in artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things, digital services, augmented and virtual reality, big data and cyber security in the latest competition.

Startups worldwide will battle against Chinese-based competition for an array of networking and mentoring opportunities from Alibaba Cloud.

The provider’s general manager for Europe, Yeming Wang, told Computer Weekly the contest will ensure the cloud firm keeps up to date with the latest innovations.

“This competition enables us to stay close to some of the most exciting developments in our industry, offering a unique perspective where we can learn from the most disruptive, inspiring and successful startups,” he said.

“By nurturing, accelerating and learning from these new tech startups, we can widen our own technology ecosystem, be part of driving the industry, and ultimately achieve Alibaba’s wider commitment to make it easy for all organisations to do business anywhere.”

Alibaba is already tapping into the potential of AI and big data after unveiling several tools at Mobile World Congress in February 2018, including an image search product, a chatbot and a data analysis platform.

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Wang said earlier this year it is investing in the technologies as a way of battling for worldwide market share with its competitors.

In September 2017, Gartner research showed Alibaba made up nearly half of its native China market but just 3% globally, compared to Amazon Web Services (AWS) with 44% global market share. AWS has already established a wide ecosystem of European partners from startups to large enterprises.

Startups can apply online for Create@Alibaba, but entrants need to generate less than $500,000 annual revenue, must have been registered in the UK, Ireland or Nordics in the last five years and cannot be a publicly listed company. The most successful entrants will be shortlisted to compete against each other in the next round on 5 September 2018.

The top five will then be selected to battle against startups in Harbin, China later that month. The best four from these cities will then have the opportunity to pitch in front of investors at Alibaba Group’s HQ in October 2018.

The 10 other cities competing include Berlin, Paris, Istanbul and Tokyo, and each of these needs to have the same process of shortlisting local companies to compete with China and have a chance to attend the global pitch day.

The overall winners will receive Alibaba credits worth between $10,000 and $50,000, a ticket to attend the Hangzhou Summit in September 2018, and a workshop with Alibaba’s solution architects.

Wang said this session “will enable them to receive invaluable support and advice on how to best leverage the various capabilities Alibaba Cloud offers”.

Contest winner

Last year, 12 international cities competed against 12 Chinese locations in the global final. Histowiz, a company which gathers and presents body tissue data, won the contest, and its CEO, Ke Cheng, said the platform is now hosted on Alibaba Cloud.

He said the competition “helped us enter the Chinese market and partner with local hospitals to provide automated histology service and pathology expertise to Chinese patients”. 

“Alibaba Cloud scalable infrastructure is helping us to process and store hundreds of terabytes of pathology image data which can be used to develop automated cancer diagnostic tools.”

The programme benefits tech startups in several ways, such as providing them with the right tools for success and connecting them with new contacts.

“We want to know how we can best support [startups’] digital needs as they grow,” he said. “What tools do they need to thrive? What technology trends and techniques are most useful as they look to establish themselves in their respective markets?”

“Ultimately, it increases the amount of exposure startups get – putting them in front of Alibaba executives, business leaders from other organisations and influential venture capitalists. In addition, [the startups] will have better access to international market opportunities facilitated by Alibaba’s global network and will benefit from networking with various venture capital investors in Alibaba’s ecosystem.”

He said participants that do not win will still be able to create a network of companies for future collaboration.

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