In today’s China, behemoths like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. are out of favor, but "little giants” are on the rise.

That’s the designation for a new generation of startups that have been selected under an ambitious government program aimed at fostering a technology industry that can compete with Silicon Valley. These often-obscure companies have demonstrated they’re doing something innovative and unique, and they’re targeting strategically important sectors like robotics, quantum computing and semiconductors.

Wu Gansha won the little giants title for his autonomous driving startup after a government review of his technology. That gave the Beijing company, Uisee, an extra dose of credibility and financial benefits. Last year, it raised more than 1 billion yuan ($157 million), including money from a state-owned fund. It’s also become a unicorn, with a valuation of at least $1 billion.