These AI Startups All Have $1 Billion in Funding

By Bruce Harpham Thursday, December 31, 2020

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology companies are booming in 2020. The technology has left the lab and made the transition to the market. Many companies, like Salesforce, Microsoft, and IBM, are investing heavily in AI through startup acquisitions, hiring, and research. Take note of these promising AI startups, which may open new horizons in 2021 and beyond.

1. SenseTime ($2.6 Billion in Funding)

This China-based startup is focused on solving computer vision and facial recognition problems. In 2014, the company received its first investments in 2014. Fast forward to 2018, SenseTime attracted the interest of SoftBank, which invested $1 billion in the company. The company enjoys support and recognition from the Chinese government. In 2019, the startup joined a Chinese working group focused on facial recognition.

Sense Time has developed its AI technology for five applications: education, healthcare, automobile, entertainment, and smart cities. The company's customers include major corporations such as Haier (a home appliances and consumer electronics company in China) and The Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai. Also, the startup signed an agreement with Honda in 2017 to contribute to Honda's self-driving car.

2. Megvii ($1.4 Billion in Funding)

Located in China, Megvii is applying its artificial intelligence expertise on the Internet of Things. The company has 17 investors, which span traditional venture capital (e.g., Boyu Capital), banks (e.g., Bank of China), and sovereign wealth funds (e.g., Abu Dhabi Investment Authority). The company's products include hardware (e.g., intelligent identity verification device) and software for cities and companies.

In October 2020, the company introduced new warehouse robots that use facial recognition, lasers, and navigation cameras. Megvii robots can transport items that weigh up to 4,400 pounds (i.e., 2000 kilograms). The company's expansion into robotics comes via its acquisition of Beijing Ares Robot Technology Co. Ltd in April 2018.

3. Nuro ($1 Billion in Funding)

Developing cars that can drive themselves is a significant challenge that has attracted interest in startups and industrial giants. Nuro, established in 2016, is developing AI for autonomous vehicles and robots. Nuro's investors include T. Rowe Price ($500 million), SoftBank ($940 million), and Greylock. SoftBank is one of the giants of technology investing in startups and established technology companies like Amazon and Facebook.

Unlike Uber's effort to develop autonomous vehicles for passengers, Nuro is focused on a different need: delivering goods. In Houston, Texas, the company has partnered with CVS and Kroger for grocery and prescription delivery. The company has completed a pilot project in Scottsdale, Arizona, to deliver Fry's Food delivery.

4. OpenAI ($1 Billion in Funding)

This AI startup is aiming to use its research capabilities to improve natural language processing (NLP). Unlike the other organizations on this list, OpenAI is structured as a nonprofit. Nonetheless, it enjoys support from technology giants like Microsoft. In addition, the startup has received funding from Y Combinator and Khosla Ventures. The organization's board includes Reid Hoffman, former executive chairman of Linkedin and a partner in Greylock Ventures, an investment fund.

Many companies working on AI and machine learning today aim to solve specific problems. OpenAI is different. Instead, OpenAI is seeking to develop general artificial intelligence that may be applied to various problems and situations.

In 2020, the startup has made two significant advancements in AI. In April, OpenAI introduced Jukebox, a neural network capable of generating music. The program's initial efforts involve collaboration between OpenAI staff and the program to produce music. In June, the company released the OpenAI API — a text-based interface that can process "virtually any English language task." The API is available to integrate into other applications. OpenAI's technology may enable other companies to push the frontier of AI further.

5. UiPath ($1.2 Billion in Funding)

Does robotic process automation (RPA) count as AI? AI experts might argue whether it makes sense to include RPA under the AI umbrella. From the end user's standpoint, RPA can create impressive productivity gains even if it doesn't have the same potential reach as OpenAI's general artificial intelligence efforts.

Established in 2005, UiPath has obtained more than $1 billion in funding. Investors in the company include T. Rowe Price, Tiger Global Management, and Tencent Holdings. The company has also grown through acquisitions. In 2019, the company acquired ProcessGold and StepShot.

UiPath, based in New York, has developed RPA for several use cases. UiPath's products make it easier to develop automations for multiple use cases, including chatbots, tasks, and enterprise-scale deployments. For non-programmers, UiPath's task capture is a significant advancement. This capability means you can record yourself performing a task and have the computer perform that task automatically afterward. UiPath's customers include LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Indonesia Bank Mega, PwC, the international consulting and accounting firm.

The Future of AI Technology

AI and machine learning technology and services are projected to be worth more than $156 billion in 2020, according to an IDC forecast. These startups have a bright future ahead of them. Expect that some of them may be acquired by giants like Microsoft, while others may take the path to become public companies.

About the Author


Headshot for author Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is an author and marketing consultant based in Canada. His first book "Project Managers At Work" shared real-world success lessons from NASA, Google, and other organizations. His articles have been published in CIO.com, InfoWorld, Canadian Business, and other organizations. Visit BruceHarpham.com for articles, interviews with tech leaders, and updates on future books.

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