By Fiona Lau and Julie Zhu
HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd, the world's largest maker of non-military drones, is in talks with investors for at least $500 million in funding ahead of a planned stock market debut, people with knowledge of the matter said.
With the funding, set to be obtained via a combination of new equity and debt, the firm would be valued at about $15 billion, nearly double its valuation in 2015, they said.
The move seeks to capitalize on robust investor enthusiasm for Chinese tech stocks which have pushed valuations to heady levels for many firms, as well as on rapid growth in demand for commercial-use drones.
Shenzhen-based DJI plans to expand into drones for sectors such as agriculture, energy, construction as well as drones for use in infrastructure inspection, two of the three people said, declining to be identified as the information was private.
Proceeds from the fundraising could be between $500 million and $800 million, one person said.
DJI, which commands 70 percent of the global commercial and consumer drone market, wants to finalize the deal in the coming months while a stock market listing either in Hong Kong or mainland China would likely take place next year, they added.
But there are also risks to its business, with U.S. President Donald Trump set to announce tariffs on Chinese imports on Thursday.
Drone technology tends to spark extra scrutiny due to concern the unmanned aircraft may be used to capture sensitive information.
DJI made headlines in 2015 when its one of its top-selling consumer drones, the Phantom, crashed into the White House lawn and last August, the U.S. Army ordered its members to stop using DJI drones because of "cyber vulnerabilities". DJI has since tightened data security on its drones.
A spokeswoman for DJI said in an emailed statement the company had no announcement to make on fundraising and that it was not planning an initial public offering at the moment. She did not elaborate.
DJI was valued at about $8 billion in 2015 when it raised $75 million from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Accel Partners. Its valuation increased to $10 billion last year, said one person.
Founded by Chief Executive Frank Wang in 2006, DJI is also backed by Sequoia Capital China. It is the world's top consumer drone maker by revenue and in January its president, Roger Luo, was quoted by media as saying that 2017 sales were likely to have exceeded 18 billion yuan ($2.9 billion).
DJI booked about 5 billion yuan in profit last year, said one of the people with knowledge of the fundraising.
Its competitors include China's Yuneec, which is backed by Intel, France's Parrot and units of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Global spending on drones is likely to reach $9 billion this year and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 30 percent in the next five years, according to research firm IDC, which estimates more than half of that spending will be on drones for commercial use.
Online technology publication The Information first reported some details of DJI's latest fundraising plans on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Fiona Lau of IFR and Julie Zhu in HONG KONG; Additional reporting by Sijia Jiang; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee and Edwina Gibbs)