World's Most Valuable AI Startup Is Chinese and Alibaba-Backed

SenseTime has become the world’s most valuable private artificial intelligence (AI) startup after successfully raising an additional $600 million from investors, including Alibaba Group Holding Limited (BABA).

In a statement, the Chinese facial recognition technology developer said the $600 million raised during its April Series-C fundraising “once again set a new record for a single round of financing in the global AI field.” The company revealed that its strategic partner Alibaba led the funding and also name-dropped Chinese e-commerce company Suning.Com and Singapore state fund Temasek as other big backers.

SenseTime didn’t disclose specific numbers, but did add that it is now the world’s most valuable AI platform. People familiar with the situation told Bloomberg that the three-year-old startup is now likely to be valued at more than $3 billion. Reuters’s sources were more optimistic, predicting that SenseTime is now worth somewhere in the region of $4.5 billion.

SenseTime’s fundraising efforts comes at a time when China’s government is pushing to make the country a global leader in AI by 2025. The U.S., which late last year was accused of not investing enough in the sector by the executive chair of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL), is currently the biggest AI market. (See also: China Will Overtake the U.S. in AI: Alphabet Chair.)

SenseTime, which has partnerships in place with U.S.-based Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) and Nvidia Corp. (NVDA), said it is plans to use the new funds to further strengthen its AI platform.

“SenseTime has established an AI ecosystem anchored with robust research, deep industry collaboration, and diverse partnerships,” Li Xu, the company’s co-founder and CEO, said. “Our Round C funding will maximize these advantages by accelerating the development of a global footprint with a larger ecosystem incorporating both domestic and overseas partners. The funding will also help us widen the scope for more industrial application of AI, thus increasing the value of SenseTime's global ecosystem."

To help with its expansion efforts, the Chinese firm is reportedly in talks to raise even more capital from investors in the coming months. In July, the company raised $410 million, valuing it at over $1.5 billion.

Alibaba Executive Vice Chair Joe Tsai added in the statement: “SenseTime is doing pioneering work in artificial intelligence. We are especially impressed by their R&D capabilities in deep learning and visual computing. Our business at Alibaba is already seeing tangible benefits from our investments in AI and we are committed to further investment. Our strategic partnership with SenseTime will spark more innovation and create value for society."

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