Alibaba Group is indirectly moving into lifestyle and fitness with the Alibaba Taiwan Entrepreneurs Fund II leading an RMB 100 million B Round in gym operator Space Cycle, which describes itself as a premium boutique fitness brand. The fund helps entrepreneurs expand via the Alibaba ecosystem and the money will be invested in new studios and Space Cycle’s online platform and offline-to-online presence.

The Space Group has been running yoga studios in China since 2005 and Space Cycle moved into mainland China last year and has six studios in Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei. As has proved popular in the US, Space Cycle uses technology to mix entertainment with group fitness. The gyms stream specially devised playlists from music platforms in Greater China, studio software controls lighting and sound and even video-mapping. Instructors are also trained in how to use music in classes and engaging with users via social media.

Space Cycle studio users
Exponents of “fitness 3.0” at a Space Cycle studio. (Image credit: Space Cycle)

The Alibaba Taiwan Entrepreneurs Fund is a not-for-profit project set up in Taiwan in 2015 to support local young entrepreneurs and graduates. The initiative provides access to investment capital and mentorship. The intention is that the entrepreneurs use this support, then through the Alibaba ecosystem gain a foothold across the Straits on the mainland and the rest of the world.

China’s active lifestyle and fitness sector is very healthy itself. Once a habit associated with those returning from abroad, the urban young in general are heading to gyms in ever greater numbers (and acquiring the related penchant for lycra-based gear). Anecdotally gyms are cropping up in the larger cities, and workplaces are building their own or offering memberships to off-site gyms to lure talent. Space Cycle claims the health and fitness sector will reach $5 billion in China this year, a low-fat cake Alibaba will want to have more ways of getting more slices of.

It is not known whether the gyms will be restricted to playing music via streaming platforms under Alibaba Music.

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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