Huawei denies offer to invest in ex-unicorn Royole, a bankrupt Chinese flexible display maker

That denial was issued on Monday in response to a WeChat post, which went viral on Sunday across Chinese social media, by former Royole independent director Liu Shuwei, who serves as director of the China Enterprise Research Centre at the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing.

The post stated that Huawei had proposed investing in Royole during its early days to secure exclusive supply of its flexible screens. Royole rejected this offer, according to Liu.

“Huawei has no such investment plans and has not initiated any investment requests,” the Shenzhen-based telecoms gear and smartphone maker said.
Royole Corp founder, chairman and chief executive Bill Liu Zihong unveils FlexPai, the world’s first foldable smartphone, in Beijing on October 31, 2018. Photo: Handout
Huawei’s concise counterstatement marks the latest dent on the reputation of flexible display maker Royole, which was valued at more than US$6 billion at its peak when its big-name backers included Shenzhen Capital Group, IDG Capital and Green Pine Capital Partners.

That comes after Royole’s creditors on May 15 succeeded in their bankruptcy petition to a Shenzhen court. According to a recently released court document, Royole’s inaugural creditors’ meeting has been set for September.

Royole exhibits its new smart home speaker with a flexible display at the CES trade show in January 2020. Photo: Shutterstock

The company touted various applications for its flexible screen technology including for smart home gadgets, smart writing pads, wearable displays, 3D mobile theaters and even for car infotainment systems.

While it attracted deep-pocketed investors, Royole’s strategy was flawed, according to analysts. “It is challenging to commercialise [a product like a smartphone] based solely on screen technology,” said Amber Liu, research manager at Canalys. “The success of a mobile phone product depends on numerous factors, including software and hardware development, market branding strategies and other new technologies.”

According to the firm’s IPO prospectus, it suffered a 961 million yuan (US$133 million) loss in the first half of 2020. It also posted losses of 1.1 billion yuan in 2019 and 802 million yuan in 2018.

While Royole fell short of its ambitions, the global market for foldable smartphones has grown significantly. This market is expected to see shipments of 20.6 million foldable smartphones in 2024, up from 15.5 million units in 2023, according to data from research firm Canalys.


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