Seattle-Area Wireless Companies (and Others) Look to Innovate, Expand in China

12/17/08Follow @gthuang

A couple of news tidbits involving China in the past week have made me look more closely at what local startups and companies are doing to expand there. On Thursday, Seattle-based Airbiquity, a wireless communications firm focused on the auto industry, announced it has entered the Chinese market, branding itself locally as Ai Bi Ke Communications Technology and setting up an office in Chengdu. The move makes good sense, given China’s burgeoning car culture.

And yesterday, Seattle-based wireless startup Movaya announced its Chinese mobile-development team, also in Chengdu, is teaming up with PressOK Entertainment’s software teams in Russia and Belarus to develop mobile games. Ken Myer, the CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA), told me last month that he thinks the Chinese market for mobile games is pretty far behind the U.S.—but it could be a good time to get in on other mobile software applications.

Not sure what it all means yet, but it’s clear there’s a pattern. Chinese talent, companies, and market opportunities are becoming more embedded in the fabric of Seattle-area innovation. While the economic downturn could lead more U.S. companies to outsource jobs and services, they are also trying to tap a new global market. And on the flip side, Chinese universities and companies are looking to develop leadership roles and move up the value stream. It’s a compelling situation to watch.

A few other recent highlights:

—Bellevue, WA-based Formotus and Seattle-based Mobile Semiconductor talked to me about building relationships with strategic investors and partners in China. The mobile companies were part of a five-company WTIA contingent that toured China in October. One key takeaway was that building these relationships and understanding the market takes time and patience.

—Issaquah, WA-based McObject, a maker of data management software, has expanded in China this fall, adding a team in Beijing doing work on embedded databases. McObject, which was also part of the WTIA tour, already has a presence in the Chinese market, but is looking to accelerate its growth there.

—Oberon Media, a New York-based developer of games and platforms with a Seattle publishing office (I-Play), scored a $20 million strategic investment from Hong Kong-based Infinity Equity in October. The partnership represents a strong effort to establish an Oberon presence on the ground in China.

—It’s definitely not just about outsourcing anymore. Bellevue-based Intellectual Ventures, headed by Nathan Myhrvold and Edward Jung, has opened an office in Beijing. Its goal is to work with local universities and institutes to help commercialize inventions, as well as keep tabs on foreign competition for ideas and intellectual property. The company’s Asian expansion is being led by global technology head Patrick Ennis, who spoke with me recently.

—Microsoft Research Asia, based in Beijing, celebrated its 10th anniversary last month. The lab has become an epicenter for computer-science research in several areas, including graphics, user interfaces, multimedia, search and advertising, and now cloud computing and theory. Three of the lab’s managing directors have gone on to become Microsoft vice presidents in Redmond.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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