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Tencent's startup investment frenzy now reaches outer space

Tencent Holdings Ltd. is best known for super-app WeChat and its relentless pace of startup investment. Now the Chinese social media giant is looking beyond Earth-bound opportunities.

China’s largest corporation has invested in Moon Express, a startup that aims to put drones on the lunar body; Argentina’s Satellogic, which specializes in satellite imagery; and Planetary Resources, which is looking into asteroid-mining. They’re an unusual trio of investments for a company that typically seeks out terrestrial entertainment content and up-and-coming technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Tencent -- one of the most acquisitive companies on China’s tech scene -- is trying to think outside the box, and maybe alter life on the planet in the process, said David Wallerstein, who as Tencent’s “Chief Exploration Officer” is tasked with finding moonshots: big ideas with indeterminate short-term returns that could in theory usher in monumental changes. His team of six people in the U.S. have invested in at least 40 companies outside of China, as they hunt for projects in areas from climate change to medical sensors.

“We’re open to the unexpected,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. "We’d like to see how far humanity can push the frontier and there’s these open questions, what can we do beyond Earth."

Tencent’s increasingly adventurous deal spree reflects a growing ambition that’s driven China’s new crop of internet titans, including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., beyond their core businesses and home markets. Alibaba, which began as an e-commerce shop, is now investing aggressively in AI and cloud computing. Baidu Inc., a search service, has voiced its targets for autonomous car-making.

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