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Business

Chinese drone maker enlists third venture investor

BEIJING -- DJI Innovations, a global leader in consumer and commercial drones, has secured $75 million in funding from U.S. venture capital group Accel Partners, an early investor in companies including Facebook, Dropbox, Spotify and Etsy.

     The deal values DJI, formally Dajiang Innovation Technology, at $8 billion, according to a person familiar with the company's fundraising efforts, implying Accel will hold a stake of just under 1%. DJI claims to control around two-thirds of the world market for private-use drones. It is still seeking to raise capital at a $10 billion valuation to develop more industrial-use products.

     "DJI is quickly establishing itself as the owner of the world's most powerful robotics platforms," said Sameer Gandhi, a partner at Accel, in announcing the deal, which the U.S. company noted was among its largest investments. "The democratization of the skyways is well underway with affordable access to UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] allowing people and companies to rethink what's possible."

     Accel, which said it will be making further announcements about its partnership with DJI, is the third venture capital firm to invest in the Shenzhen-based company.

     Chinese venture capital firm Maison Capital bought a 2% stake in DJI's corporate parent in April 2014, according to company filings. The equity holdings, then 44.3% held by DJI founder and CEO Frank Wang Tao, were reorganized in September under a new British Virgin Islands holding company. U.S. venture fund Sequoia Capital is understood to have invested 200 million yuan ($32.2 million) in DJI this past January.

     Founded in 2006 in Wang's dorm room at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, DJI generated around $500 million in sales last year, up from about $130 million in 2013, according to remarks by Wang. North America and Europe accounted for about 80% of revenue.

     DJI could be the first Chinese company to globally pioneer a significant consumer product. Its drones are easily operated, lightweight and sell for as little as $1,000. They have been bought and used by firefighters, aid organizations, oil companies, farmers, filmmakers and media companies to shoot photos and video. The drones are essentially miniature helicopters with multiple propellers that can fly for around a half hour.

     To drum up sales in its home market, DJI on April 29 formed partnerships with popular Chinese web services including Youku Tudou, Alipay and Weibo. Also last month, the company rolled out a new generation of its flagship Phantom line with more advanced cameras and controls. This year, DJI aims to grow sales to $1 billion, even in the face of growing competition and regulatory headwinds.

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