Toutiao, a Chinese startup, has managed to secure a staggering $3.1 billion in financing from companies investors such as Sequioa Capital. This figure has propelled the company to the largest artificial intelligence (AI) startup globally, at the moment, with a whopping valuation of $20 billion. Established in 2012, Toutiao functions as ByteDance’s news aggregation platform, which not only deals with the Chinese market but also utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) to write news stories and curate users’ news feeds independently.
Since the start of 2018, Toutiao has been working in conjunction with Buzzfeed to disseminate entertainment content to the startup’s audience of 120 million people in China. The company is also planning to expand its international operations to both developed and emerging regions as well as considering the option of making its own AI chips to back this endeavor.
Since its establishment in 2014, SenseTime has secured about $1.6 billion intended for developing computer algorithms with a key focus on facial recognition. This year alone, the Chinese startup has raised a total of $1.2 billion in two financing rounds, particularly led by Fidelity and Alibaba. In turn, the funding boosted Sensetime’s valuation to $4.5 billion.
Aside from weather forecast, personalized shopping and selfie applications, the Sensetime’s algorithms are utilized by both the federal and local Chinese government to conduct public surveillance. This service contributes about one-third of the entire startup’s revenue. Furthermore, the company is currently investing considerably in research and development and boasts that one of the newest algorithms can assess and filter web content with an accuracy of 99.5%. Recently, SenseTime launched a non-profit lab in partnership with its investor and partner Alibaba to nurture artificial intelligence talent mainly in Hong Kong.
Launched in 2017, Argo AI, a Pittsburgh-based startup, raised $1 billion in its recently held financing round that was led by Ford Motor Company. The raised funds are aimed at creating the brains for Ford’s new line of level 4 self-driving vehicles to be unveiled at the start of 2021. Argo AI is led by Carnegie Mellon alumni who are ex-Uber and ex-Google employees.
Although the team at Argo AI seemed to emerge out of nowhere in February 2017, particularly with Ford’s massive investment, the company has since grown to include over 320 workers. According to the startup’s records, Ford currently owns a considerable share of Argo AI even though the team still maintains its operational independence. In fact, the management teams of both companies share the board equally. Nonetheless, Argo AI is open to forming strategic collaborations with other companies.
Established in 2012, UBTECH has garnered $940 billion intended for designing both commercial and consumer robots for diverse applications. The largest portion of the money was an $820 million financing round that was conducted in May and led by Tencent, an Internet giant. The round propelled the startup’s valuation to $5 billion. UBTECH’s mission is to deliver a robot into each home and incorporate intelligent robots into the daily lives of every person interested in building a more intelligent way of living.
UBTECH intends to invest considerably in research and development by utilizing its new financing. The company’s product plans consist of a robot operating system dubbed Rosa, which operates as a cloud service as well as a new generation of commercial and home robots to be unveiled by 2021. According to the company’s founder, Zhou Jian, UBTECH has expanded its operations into ‘Murica by setting up its office in Los Angeles.
San Francisco-based startup Affirm has managed to raise $720 million, whereby $300 million was realized after profiling of the company was done last year. Some of the investors include Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, and Morgan Stanley. Furthermore, the team at Affirm has created a point-of-sale customer financing technology that utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms in performing a credit check on customers, which takes place almost instantaneously.
Created in 2012, Affirm originated over $1 billion loans last year and has been rapidly expanding its operations towards creating brick-and-mortar Apple Pay as well as providing financial advisory services. The company’s loans are available for 3 to 24 months coupled with percentage rates of between 10 and 30 percent depending on the outcomes of the credit check.
Megvii, short form for Mega Vision, is one of the notable providers of facial recognition, which makes it a leading competitor of SenseTime. It boasts an aggregate of $607 million in financing, which is intended to be used in developing cloud-based computer vision service. Since last year, Megvii has raised an extra $469 million in investment from various firms such as Foxconn, Ant Financial (Alibaba’s subsidiary). Currently, Alibaba’s online payment platform leverages the startup’s Face++ face scan service.
Since its creation in 2012, German-based startup Kreditech has secured about $497.3 million in funding from various investors such as Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund in a bid to create a machine learning algorithm that utilizes customers’ browsing data and social media in determining creditworthiness.The startup can offer access to credit for individuals with minimal or no credit history. What’s more, Kreditech’s proprietary algorithm can check a maximum of 20,000 data points per a single application and delivers a customer credit score within one minute. Currently, this service is available in several countries around the globe such as India, Russia, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Poland and Spain.
In the commercial field, Kreditech provides its services and technology as a partner to other corporates and financial institutions by offering point-of-sale loans in a similar manner to Affirm. It also white labels its technology to banking institutions. In its recent expansion move into India, Kreditech collaborated with PayU, which is an online payment provider that operates in emerging markets to deliver monthly installments to e-commerce customers, particularly those devoid of a bank card.
8. ACORN OakNorth
Created in 2015, ACORN OakNorth prides itself on being the largest artificial intelligence (AI) startup in the United Kingdom. It has received $448.5 million in funding since formation. The UK-based startup is creating an online small and medium enterprise (SME) lending platform through a proprietary scoring and loan origination algorithm dubbed ACORN machine. With the recent investment of $125 million from Singapore-based sovereign wealth fund, GIC, ACORN was able to join unicorn club of the United Kingdom (UK).
ACORN has two main revenue streams including selling the startup’s technology to other institutions and originating loans for small and medium, enterprises (SMEs). The company closed 2018 with $14 million in profit and has currently managed to originate about $1.6 billion in loans as of March 2018. Rishi Khosla, ACORN’s chief executive officer, confirmed that the company is looking forward to expanding into the Chinese market, but it is not interested in a stock exchange listing at the moment.
CloudWalk makes up another Chinese firm that utilizes artificial intelligence, specifically for facial recognition. Since its launch, the company has received approximately $389 million in financing. Aside from using its technology in local Chinese police departs and financial institutions, the startup has been recently rolling out its revolutionary technology in airports all over China. Even so, the company is currently conducting a pilot project for its predictive crime mitigation system, which can make the fiction movie Minority Report a reality in the near future. The Chinese police are tracking citizens’ activities and movements by working closely with CloudWalk as well as combining the information with the population’s previous records in an attempt to forecast who is most likely to commit a crime and time they intend to do so. Recently, the company made a cooperation agreement with the Zimbabwe government aimed at exporting the country’s dystopian vision all over Africa.
Zoox is one of the Silicon Valley-based companies in the startup space. So far, the company has raised a staggering $290 million since its establishment in an effort of developing its fleet of self-driving cars that will offer taxi services with a goal of revolutionizing the transportation sector. Even with their stealth mode of operation, Zoox‘s website features 118 open vacancies that are currently available at the company.
The team at Zoox ventured into the designing of transportation robots, which can operate devoid of human being supervision, through working on various aspects including proprietary algorithms charging and maintenance station network as well as car design and manufacturing simultaneously. Australian co-founder Tim Kentley-Klay, Zoox has been extra secretive regarding its product, which will only be unveiled to the public in 2020. However, leading media outlets can test the Toyotas they utilize to teach the artificial intelligence algorithms.
Looking at the above list, it is safe to conclude China, the United States, and the United Kingdom are some of the leading nations in the race for artificial intelligence dominance. As such, more governments and companies can be expected to continue investing in AI startups in an attempt to align themselves with the looming technological revolution. With this growing trend in the emergence of AI-based startups, the future appears to be bright as far as AI adoption is concerned.