A look at the most active VC’s investing in AI (artificial intelligence) startups right now.
While we previously considered robots to be somewhat of a scary thought, buckets of money are now being poured into the systems and architecture that allow machines to learn and develop themselves – without human interaction.
Hot off the press, PwC’s 2018 The Moneytree Report notes that $9.3 billion was invested into AI companies last year, alone. This monumental figure shows the increasing interest in technology and both public and private sector funders are beginning to understand its capabilities.
From AI operating systems for self-driving cars to self-learning language processing platforms, artificial intelligence truly spans the industry sectors. With the potential to disrupt so many areas, venture capital firms are jumping on the bandwagon to fund the brains behind the projects, getting themselves ahead of the curve.
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Below is a list of some of the most prominent venture capital companies investing in AI tech and a rundown of what they’re hoping to achieve.
Softbank Group is a multinational holding group based in Japan. It is run by the richest man in the country, Masayoshi Son, who claims he is devoting 97% of his ‘time and mind’ to AI development. The company has a dedicated fund for technological development called Softbank Vision Fund – the largest fund in the world at $93 billion. $28 billion of this is dedicated to the new investment fund, which focuses hugely on AI. Investments they have already made include SenseTime, a company developing facial recognition, vehicle automation, and AR, as well as Petuum Inc, a company focused on scaling machine learning.
A subsection of Intel Corporation, Intel Capital invests in a range of technology start-ups and controls mergers and acquisitions. Set up in 1991, Intel Capital had invested in over 1280 companies across 54 countries by 2011, having dedicated over $10.83 billion to capital investments. Last year, they invested over $72 million into AI and IoT alone, with total technology investments totting up to over $115 million in 2018. These investments include Gamalon, a machine learning platform to teach computers, and Syntiant, a company producing neural decision-making chips to speed up computer processes and reduce battery consumption.
A US-based private equity fund, IVP tends to provide funding in the later stages of company development. Having invested in well-known companies such as Slack, Github, Pindrop, Soundcloud, and Indiegogo, IVP has now become a huge investor in AI startups. Having announced another $1.5 billion added to their investment fund in 2017, that puts their total committed capital at $7 billion. Most notably IVP has provided funds for Ziprecruiter, which were in the top 5 funded AI projects of 2018; and Sumo Logic, a machine data analytics company.
Two Sigma Ventures is a subsidiary of the parent company, Two Sigma Investments. They provide early-stage capital that focuses on growing information and improving computer power that is aimed at changing the world for the better. They work with a threefold model of investing in tech companies that are increasing information availability, advancing computer and science capabilities, and who have inspirational and visionary leaders. Their investments have included Amper Music, an AI software for making music for videos based on emotional mapping; Zymergen, an AI software to improve biological manipulation; and Socore, a predictive analytics software.
Lightspeed Ventures is US-based and provides funding for early-stage development in the tech and consumer sectors. They have a huge portfolio of tech companies, many including prominent tech startups who were later acquired by Oracle, Texas Instruments, Blackberry, Walmart, and other corporate giants. They recently invested in AnyVision, the leading facial, body, and object recognition AI software, along with FortressIQ, which is crafting a governance layer for enterprise bots. They also invested $7 million in People.ai, an extremely successful AI platform for enterprise revenue optimization.
Andreessen Horowitz is perhaps one of the most well-known venture capital firms in AI, with its tagline being ‘Software is eating the world’.The company began in Silicon Valley, California in 2009 and invest in all stages of company development. They have raised $7.1 billion over 7 funds, which they have dedicated to helping tech entrepreneurs grow, while also providing expert advice from their broad-reaching team of engineers, executives, industry experts, and academics. In fact, Andreessen Horowitz led the campaign to successfully raise $30 million for People.ai. They also have a specific bio fund devoted to helping develop AI in the medical field to help prevent and treat diseases. Other notable investments include Shield AI, AI software for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and Freenome, AI for understanding the immune system.
A child company of Toyota, this venture capital subsidiary is aimed at funding AI projects in robotics and autonomous mobility. The fund has $100 million and puts emphasis on being able to provide expert advice and guidance from their team of experienced scientists and entrepreneurs. Some of their major projects include Elementary Robotics, robots for home care; Perceptive Automata, software for helping autonomous cars understand human emotion; and Apex AI, software for autonomous mobility vehicles.
Y Combinator is also known as a business incubator. They have a great model for investing small amounts of money in large numbers of tech-based startups, with a big emphasis on AI and machine learning. They invest $150k twice a year into startups, who then move to Silicon Valley for 3 months to work closely with Y Combinator’s experts, who teach the team and help to structure the startups successfully. In fact. Y Combinator now has a dedicated AI fund, whose alumni include May Mobility, self-driving shuttles; Lyre Bird, voice synthesizing AI; and Msg.ai, an enterprise customer service interaction tool.
Data Collective holds the record for backing the most AI companies since 2012 – having funded 20 AI startups in the last 7 years. While they provide funds for entrepreneurs who are applying this technology on a global enterprise scale, Data Collective tends to focus on Big Data companies. Example projects include Plenty, an agritech company using AI to grow GMO- and pesticide-free crops; Recursion Pharmaceuticals, which are using cell behavior data to treat disease; and Vicarious, a software that patterns the human brain and uses the data to develop robotic intelligence.
Formerly known as Microsoft Ventures, M12 is a huge fund that looks directly at investing in AI. Founded in 2016, the firm invests in projects located in North America and Israel. With unprecedented access to Microsoft’s ecosystem, firms on M12’s rota have a wealth of experts, academics, and resources at their fingertips to help build their AI projects. M12 focuses on early-stage funding, and is looking to select B2B businesses and work with them as partners not just as funders. Projects lucky enough to be working with M12 include TwentyBN, a company helping robots learn human mannerisms to work safely with humans; Contract Security, a self-protecting malware software; and Mental Canvas, a software that fills in the gaps between 2D and 3D images.
Backing AI, VR, and AR projects, Baidu Ventures is a subsidiary of China’s biggest search engine, Baidu Inc. Their investment focus is on deep tech in the Seed, Series A, and Series B stages of development. Generally, investments so far have looked at image software, communications, algorithmic improvements, and chips. The size of Baidu Ventures is a real plus for funded companies as they have access to incredible resources in the fields of data annotation, system architecture, and engineering. Having opened their own AI research lab in Silicon Valley in 2013, Baidu are a global leader in the AI arms race, having developed their own language processing, machine learning, smart home, and telecom AI systems. They recently invested in Veo Robotics, solutions for industrial robot collaboration; and Aqrose Technology, a company that applies machine vision and machine learning to industrial processes.
Investing in AI and robotics startups, Comet Labs is both a fund and an incubator. Founded in 2015, Comet Labs is aiming to enhance global productivity through robotics and AI development. Aside from funding, they partner with industry experts to provide startups with an environment in which they can grow, learn, and improve on their business skills to support their technological concept. So far, they have invested in startups developing AI in transportation, construction, agriculture, healthcare, food systems, and so on. Interesting projects they have on their books include Creator, who makes gourmet burgers without any human input; Iron Ox, a food growing service that uses robotic greenhouses; and Prenav, automated commercial drones designed to fly in hostile environments.
A Japanese venture capital firm, East Ventures is an early-stage fund for Southeast Asian and Japanese companies. They have a strong track record for the acquisition of their startups by reputable companies across SEA, such as Kudo who was acquired by Grab, and Disdus, which was acquired by Groupon. Recent AI projects include TARA, AI for product scoping and talent assignment; Kite, a software that augments your programming environment with all the programming knowledge on the internet; and vision software for object and facial recognition.
CRV is one of the oldest VC firms in the US. They have been investing in tech for more than 40 years, covering everything from apps to cell phone towers. The team is made up of entrepreneurs and business operators who all consider themselves to have an equal partnership and say within the company. They work hard and make decisions quickly, but always making those decisions as a whole team. Projects they have on the go right now include 3T Biosciences, AI to cure cancer; Airobotics, a company for collecting and analyzing aerospace data; and Jibo, a home robot for families.
Established in 2000, Qualcomm Ventures invests in startups that provide technological advancements that will promote and assist the growth of Qualcomm Inc – a designer and manufacturer of digital wireless telecommunications systems and devices. They provide funding at Seed, Early-, and Late-Stage funding rounds and have made 331 investments since their conception. In the AI realms, these investments include Cruise, AI software for self-driving robo-taxis; Prospera, data-driven AI for agricultural and climate improvement; and Elevoc, a machine-learning hearing tool.
Founded by Sun Microsystems co-founder, Vinod Khosla in 2004, Khosla Ventures tends to focus its energy on funding eco-friendly technology – however, it does branch out to other areas. Based in Silicon Valley, California, Khosla Ventures try to address large-scale issues by finding companies that use technology or innovative business models to invent better solutions than our current ones. They focus on ‘Black Swan’ ideas – ideas that provide innovation beyond what is regularly expected. With that in mind, their current exciting AI projects include Artrendex, AI solutions for the art market; and Ayasdi, an AI software that helps enterprises sort complex data to provide actionable solutions.
Founded in 2011, Golden Gate Ventures invests in early-stage funding in Southeast Asia. Having funded over 30 startups in 7 SEA countries, Golden Gate Ventures directs its funding predominantly to internet and mobile startups that enhance payment, e-commerce, SaaS and marketplace processes. Dynamic projects they’ve been involved with funding include Korean company Skelter Labs, who develop AI-driven virtual assistant tech; Perx, a Singaporean AI customer insight and loyalty app; and Carousell, an online marketplace that operates in 7 Asian countries.
Accel is a pretty veteran venture capital firm, having started out in 1983. With 30 years’ experience under their belts, Accel selects their business portfolio based on companies that will propel us into the next generation. Having funded companies like Dropbox, Etsy Spotify, Facebook, and Slack, Accel has an incredible track record for identifying and building a global community of exceptional entrepreneurs. Recently, they’ve joined the wave of AI investment, putting $650K to AceBot, Slack’s AI productivity bot; while also funding projects such as Scale, an AI platform to make intelligence more accessible; SigTuple, an AI healthcare platform; and Facilio, an AI facilities management tool for commercial real estate owners.
Highland Capital Partners has been around the block a few times, having been founded in 1988. With offices in the US and China, HCP has invested in over 225 companies and raised more than $3 billion. Their investments tend to lean toward commerce and technology, with supporting companies like Lycos, VistaPrint, and Ask Jeeves over the years. Nowadays, they have a huge section dedicated to AI and machine learning, funding projects such as Nutonomy, the only self-driving car company to have deployed vehicles on 2 continents; and Turbonomic, a workload automation platform.
With a keen eye on technology and healthcare, NEA is a global venture capital company that has been investing in multiple stages of funding from 1977 onward. Since opening their doors, they have funded $19 billion worth of projects and have more than 210 companies in their library, along with over 360 acquisitions. When it comes to AI, they’re pointedly turning their expertise to innovative projects that combine their specialties – such as Syllable, an AI communication platform that helps medical professionals communicate with patients; and One Concern, a hazard modeling AI software to assist before, during and after natural disasters.
Kleiner Perkins is based in California and predominantly works with technology companies. They’ve put successful dollars into well-known projects such as Ring, Spotify, Slack, Amazon, and Google, having invested over $10 billion in hundreds of firms. As early-stage investors, they tend to pick projects that use tech to improve life sciences, having recently bolstered the prolific AI healthcare startup, Viz.ai. Other AI companies they’re helping include Mist, an AI-driven wireless LAN system; Labelbox, a data labeling process platform; and Ripcord, for automated document processing.
Horizon Ventures are a Hong Kong based venture capital firm that started out in 1999. They’ve funded significant companies such as Skype, Siri, and Facebook, and have always had a technological edge to their funding. They focus heavily on disruptive technologies that are poised to shift paradigms, putting them in the perfect position to help AI companies in securing their goals. While based in Asia, they have a global footprint. Current projects up their sleeve include UK-based AI biotech company, Synthace; US-based AI ocean data collection company, Saildrone; and Fano Labs, a natural language processing tool.
30-year-old venture capital firm, Mohr Davidow Ventures is a tech-based early-stage investor looking to redefine markets across the world. Honing in on emerging tech, MDV are looking to find technology that allows the personal, private, and public spheres to interact. They’ve given funding to ideas that have been born out of the advertising, digital marketing, enterprise applications, education, health, and Lifetech spheres and are now spreading their wings into AI companies that are looking to excel in these areas and other similar verticals. With $1.85 billion under management currently, they’re working with AI companies such as Rocket Fuel, a company developing AI to improve marketing ROI; and WorkFusion, an AI-driven platform for operations automation.
Analytics Ventures focuses solely on AI projects. Founded in San Diego, California, AV pride itself on being a fully comprehensive venture ecosystem, with a lab full of AI scientists an operations team, and a venture fund for new projects. Working as both an incubator and an investor, AV is currently working with a whole range of AI companies, such as dynam.AI, business optimization solutions; CureMetrix, medical imaging for mammograms; and Zerise, an AI operating system for energy distribution across microgrids.
With over $2 billion under management, the Silicon Valley-based capital firm, True Ventures are looking to fund early-stage companies. Having helped over 250 companies since their birth in 2005, True Ventures have worked on some household names such as Ring and Blue Bottle Coffee. They won the National Venture Capital Association award ‘Venture Firm of the Year’ last year, putting them in great stead for the future of investing. They’re moving more toward becoming technology focus and have got their claws into some of the best AI projects on the market, such as Zymergen, a biological manipulation AI software; Diligent Robotics, AI software to help robots collaborate; and Loansnap, AI-driven home loans.
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