Headquarters: Shenzhen, China
Listing: Hong Kong
Market cap: $47 billion

China's second-largest Internet company, Tencent started as an online chat service called "QQ" back in 1998. That service caught on among young people in China because it offered them a way to communicate for free, similar to how AOL's (AOL) instant messenger service works.

From there it's blossomed into a website that sells virtual goods at micro price points. With millions of users, that's translated into a fast-growing billion dollar business.

Tencent has used its stickiness with the Chinese consumer to construct strategic partnership in other potentially lucrative niches. In 2012, the company launched a strategic partnership with Disney (DIS) to co-develop animated web content for Chinese consumers.

Tencent hosts a microblogging, Twitter-esque service called Weibo that's catching on among consumers, and it also collects revenues through a Paypal service called Tenpay. To retain its hold in the Chinese marketplace, Tencent has spent roughly $800 million to acquire several dozen Chinese startups.

By Maureen Farrell @CNNMoneyInvest - Last updated April 26 2012: 6:06 PM ET
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