💰 Investments and exits for AI companies: Q4 2018

This is an excerpt from my AI newsletter in which I synthesise a narrative that analyses and links important news, data, research and startup activity from the AI world.

👉 Sign up here so it lands straight in your inbox.


Q4 2018 has been an active one! Here’s a highlight of the most intriguing financing rounds:

Zymergen, a Bay Area company with a mission to search beyond the bounds of human intuition to deliver novel products and materials, closed a $400M Series C investment led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund (SoftBank proper led their Series B). This business is often held up as a posterchild for how the software industry can intersect with life sciences to accelerate what is an otherwise slow discovery and development process. The key idea is to use machine learning (and other computational methods with lab automation) with real-world and simulated data to navigate a vast search space of potential (in)organic molecules to make discoveries in a much more directed fashion. Zymergen now has over 500 employees, 42% of whom are in research and 21% are in engineering.

Horizon Robotics, a Chinese semiconductor company focused on embedded computer vision processors for large-scale facial recognition in security and mobility, is on the market to raise $1B at $3B-$4B valuation. Horizon is yet another Chinese AI startup founded by former members of Baidu’s self-driving car project (another example being PonyAI).

Automation Anywhere, one of the big 3 robotic process automation vendors, raised a $300M extension to their $250M Series A that was announced only in July. This round is led by SoftBank Vision Fund at $2.6B post-money while the prior one was led by Goldman Sachs and NEA at $1.8B post-money.

DataRobot, vendor of a predictive analytics platform for enterprises to build and deploy predictive models the cloud or on-premise, continues its rapid growth by raising a $100M Series D led by Sapphire Ventures and Meritech.

A few semiconductor related financings:

Esperanto Technologies, a maker of energy-efficient RISC-V computing solutions, raised a $63M Series B;

Habana Labs, the Israeli maker of a separate training and inference AI processors, raised a $75M Series B led by Intel along with Bessemer and Battery Ventures.

Wave Computing, which provides dataflow-based systems to “eliminate the need for a host and co-processor in the processing of a neural network”, raised $86M in Series E financing.

Two businesses raised significant capital to apply AI techniques in the sales arena. First, Afiniti raised $130M at a $1.6B valuation. On the one hand their product analyses sales people’s performance with specific types of calls and situations, and on the other hand, it analyses customers’ prior interactions with a company. It then matches up customer service reps who it believes will be most compatible with specific customers. Second, Chorus.ai raised a $33M Series B from Georgian Partners to help sales teams have “higher quality conversations that result in higher quota attainment, higher rep productivity, and shorter new hire ramp time”.

Apex.ai, led by Jan Becker (a longtime Bosch AV engineer and member of Sebastian Thrun’s Darpa robotics challenge team), raised a $15.5M Series A led by Canaan and Lightspeed to build an operating system for self-driving cars.

AEye, whose iDAR sensor couples a solid state LiDAR and high-resolution camera in a single device to detect and track moving vehicles up to a kilometer away (!), raised a $40M Series B led by Taiwan’s government-backed venture fund.

Standard Cognition, an Amazon Go-style autonomous checkout system (yeah, it’s becoming Uber for X at this point), raised a $40M Series A led by Initialized Capital.

Primer, which automates the understanding of large text corpuses in the enterprise, raised $40M Series B led by Lux Capital to expand into new verticals outside of fintech and government.

Appzen, an AI-based solution for auditing employee expenses in the enterprise back office, close a $35M Series B led by Lightspeed.

M&A deals

Cylance, a Bay Area cybersecurity company focused on predicting and preventing the execution of advanced threats against endpoints, was acquired for $1.4B by Blackberry in the latter’s bid to evolved into a software-only vendor. Cylance’s technology is deployed over 14.5 million endpoints in including many Fortune 100 organizations and governments. The company was founded in 2012 by Ryan Permeh (formerly Chief Scientist at McAfee) and Stuart McClure (formerly EVP and Worldwide CTO at McAfee). The business has almost 1,000 employees and raised $297M.

Blue Vision Labs, a London-based post-Series A stage company building city-scale 3D maps for shared AR experiences, was acquired by Lyft’s Level 5 (self-driving) team. The deal is worth $72M with an extra $30M on the basis of milestones. BVL built a team of 40 people, many of whom have significant computer vision, robotics and machine learning experience from Oxford and Imperial, as well as large tech companies. The company had opened their developer SDK in Q1 2018 ahead of Niantic’s Real World Platform that was announced in June 2018.

Silk Labs, a US startup focused on on-device AI to empower businesses to build the next generation of intelligent connected devices, was acquired by Apple for an undisclosed amount. The company was founded by two former Mozilla alums and a Qualcomm alum in 2015. The team ran a Kickstarter campaign where they raised $150k (after $4M in VC capital) for an AI-enabled smart camera and hub, called Sense. The product’s USP was that all the processing was done locally on a Qualcomm chip. The product never shipped and money was returned to backers.