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Chinese drone startup plans Pacific crossing for IPO

EHang is eyeing an IPO in the US that could raise up to $500 million, part of a major year for VC-backed offerings on Wall Street and a continuation of the budding drone boom.

Chinese drone manufacturer EHang has chosen Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley to help the company prepare for a public offering in the US sometime this year that could raise between $400 million and $500 million, according to Reuters. The business last announced VC backing in 2015, when it brought in a $42 million round at a reported valuation of around $400 million.

GGV Capital and Shanghai’s GP Capital are among the existing investors in EHang, which was founded in 2014 in Guangzhou. The company is developing multiple models of drones, including one called the EHang 184, which is designed to fly individual passengers in an electric, autonomous vehicle; reports emerged in 2016 that the company hopes to eventually sell the EHang 184 for between $200,000 and $300,000, and more recent coverage indicated the drone has completed more than 1,000 test flights with human passengers, including a near-1,000 foot vertical climb and a cruising test that reached speeds of 80 miles per hour.

The startup builds smaller drones, too, including an autonomous quadcopter designed to deliver food that launched a partnership with Chinese supermarket chain Yonghui last June. It also makes drones for formation flight, setting a Guinness World Record last year by flying 1,374 drones in what it called a “formation light show.”

It’s the second time in as many weeks that reports have emerged of a buzzy startup from China targeting a public offering in the US. In the final days of February, it was Luckin Coffee, a quickly growing chain that also reportedly hired Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley to run its offering, in addition to Goldman Sachs. Luckin reached an estimated $2.2 billion VC-backed valuation last December and is said to be seeking a $3 billion valuation with a 2019 IPO.

What’s expected to be a huge year for US IPOs is, as you’d expect, also shaping up to be a frantic stretch for some of the nation’s most prestigious investment banks. Credit Suisse also had top-line billing on Lyft‘s recent S-1 filing, while Morgan Stanley was reportedly the choice of Uber to lead its potential $120 billion listing. Slack, Pinterest and Postmates are among the host of other unicorns that could make the move from private to public before the year is out.

The drone business has been a well-funded one in recent years. Perhaps the industry leader is SZ DJI Technology, another Chinese manufacturer that makes various drones, cameras and related gear; reports emerged last year that it was seeking $500 million in new funding at a $15 billion valuation. Another example is PrecisionHawk, a North Carolina drone company that’s raised over $100 million in VC and hit a $210 million valuation last year. And Airobotics is an Arizona-based business that raised $30 million in October to continue building automated industrial drones.

A flood of funding, though, doesn’t guarantee success. Airware was a California business that launched in 2011 with the aim of creating an operating system for drones, raising over $100 million in VC from investors like Andreessen Horowitz, First Round Capital and Kleiner Perkins. But it wasn’t enough: Airware shut down last fall, citing a lack of funds and a market that didn’t mature as quickly as the company hoped.

If EHang succeeds in raising half a billion dollars in an upcoming IPO, a lack of funding shouldn’t be a problem—not anytime soon, at least.

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    Written by Kevin Dowd

    Kevin Dowd wrote The Weekend Pitch newsletter for PitchBook, covering startups, buyouts and the rest of the private market.

    A native of the Pacific Northwest, he’s an alumnus of the University of Washington with a degree in creative writing and journalism. He enjoys books and basketball and, most especially, books about basketball. He feels uncomfortable writing about himself in the third person.

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