An Overview of China’s Top-Funded AI Startups

From 2015–2017 over 450 Chinese AI startups received funding totaling CN¥30 billion (US$4.8 billion). Although the number of funding rounds declined in 2017, the year’s total funding was more than double the total for 2015 and 2016 combined. Sixty-four funding rounds garnered US$15–150 million and five topped US$150 million.

Which Companies Raised the Most?

In July 2017, Beijing-based SenseTime announced US$410 million in Series B funding, which made the company China’s biggest AI unicorn. On October 31st, facial recognition company Megvii secured US$360 million on top of its C-round investments of US$100 million, claiming a recording-breaking total investment for the year of US$460 million.

The story doesn’t end here: On April 9 2018 SenseTime officially announced that it had raked in a staggering $600 million in Series C funding from Alibaba Group, followed by Temasek, Suning and a few other strategic partners. SenseTime once again set a global record and became the world’s most valuable artificial intelligence startup.

Which Company Raised a Lot, Unexpectedly?

Other than SenseTime and Megvii, two other Chinese AI companies have received over $150 million in a single round. One of them is iCarbonX, a biotech firm founded in late 2015 by Dr. Jun Wang, former CEO of the Beijing Genomics Institute. The company raised US$150 million led by Tencent Holdings in April 2016 and became a spotlight unicorn overnight.

iCarbonX analyzes its clients’ data with AI technologies designed to help them manage their own health. The company’s digital health management platform Meum provides users with personalized recommendations on fitness, skincare, and nutrition with continuous data tracking.

Big Plans for 2018

If a startup stops receiving investment for two years, people may wonder if it’s still around. We surveyed low-profile startups that announced investments in 2015, have kept their public profiles up to date, and have big plans for 2018.

Emotibot Technologies Limited, an AI chatbot startup, garnered US$25 million in 2015. The company has since secured total funding of US$47 million, and developed the XiaoYing personal service bot, FinBot for financial management, and Service Bot for customer service. Emotibot’s AI-powered shopping assistant Sue debuted at CES 2018.

D-Ear Technologies raised $2.4 million A-round funding in 2015. The company’s core speech and voiceprint recognition product c-SMB has already been deployed in public security, on the China Construction Bank mobile banking platform, and in the Vanke Hotel identity authentication system. It has been reported that D-Ear is expected to close a US$15 million funding round in 2018.

Robotics startup Dorabot has previously closed a series A+ round led by Yunfeng Capital for an undisclosed amount. The company utilizes computer vision systems for scanning, sorting, and locating; and has designed path planning systems for automated guided vehicles (AGV) and motion planning. Sources say Dorabot will announce partnerships with top-notch logistics and e-commerce companies in 2018.

There are also the less fortunate: Mioji Travel, an AI-powered platform providing customized travel plans, announced its transformation to B2B after failing in the B2C market.

List of top-funded Chinese AI startups 2015 to 2017

Company Name: Horizon Robotics
2015 to 2017 Funding (USD): 121.0 million
Latest Financing Round (USD): Series A+, 100 million
Progress as of 2017: Unveiled its Gauss-architecture embedded AI computer vision processors Journey for intelligent driving vehicles and Sunrise for smart cameras.
Plan for 2018: To introduce the Bernoulli-based AI processor that can apply sparse and binary networks to support the accessing and processing of 4 channels of 1080p@30fps image data simultaneously, as well as multiple sensor fusion.

Company Name: CloudWalk Technology
2015 to 2017 Funding (USD): 117.6 million
Latest Financing Round (USD): Series B, 78.4 million
Progress as of 2017: Achieved annual revenue of ~$62.7 million; Nominated as part of the “Internet+” project proposed by National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) in China.
Plan for 2018: To make a breakthrough in the field of Security and Protection

Company Name: Cambricon Technologies 
2015 to 2017 Funding (USD): 103.1 million
Latest Financing Round (USD): Series A+, 100 million
Progress as of 2017: Released two deep learning processors, Cambrian-1H8 in Q1 and Cambrian-1H16 in Q3 of 2017; Partnered with Huawei and launched Kirin 970, a new generation of mobile chip with a Neural Processing Unit (NPU).
Plan for 2018: To launch chip Cambrian-1M for autonomous driving

Company Name: Beijing Orion Star Technology
2015 to 2017 Funding (USD): 93.3 million
Latest Financing Round (USD): Series A, 40.75 million
Progress as of 2017: Launched its self-developed remote voice interactive system; Partnered with popular Chinese audio streaming platform and released the voice-operated speaker Xiao Ya.
Plan for 2018: To bring hardware to mass production

Company Name: TuSimple
2015 to 2017 Funding (USD): 72.8 million
Latest Financing Round (USD): Series C, 55 million
Progress as of 2017: Conducted long-distance road testing on its Level 4 autonomous truck
Plan for 2018: To perform road tests on a fleet of 50 trucks in China and a fleet that consists hundreds of units in the US; To make a trial on delivering freight with autonomous driving trucks in China and the United States

Company Name: YITU Technology
2015 to 2017 Funding (USD): 70.6 million
Latest Financing Round (USD): Series C+, Size Not released
Progress as of 2017: Launched an AI-based clinical research platform with a full range of medical solutions and products; Became an investor in AccutarBio and ThinkForce
Plan for 2018: To expand oversea markets and to explore business opportunities in security surveillance

Company Name: ThinkForce
2015 to 2017 Funding (USD): 70.5 million
Latest Financing Round (USD): Series A, 70.5 million
Progress as of 2017: Successfully raised funds
Plan for 2018: To launch a chip based on ManyCore architecture; To complete and optimize the AI cloud virtualization scheduling during chip-level implementation

Company Name: Unisound
2015 to 2017 Funding (USD): 62.7 million
Latest Financing Round (USD): Strategic investment, 47 million
Progress as of 2017: Earned an annual revenue of ~$15 million; Launched AI operation system AIOS, voice control system Pandora; Founded a company with Ping An Good Doctor to expanded business to mobile healthcare services
Plan for 2018: To focus on research and development of AI chip UniOne for optimization and commercialization of its cloud terminal chip ecosystem

Company Name: Rokid 
2015 to 2017 Funding (USD): 55.0 million
Latest Financing Round (USD): Series B, 50 million
Progress as of 2017: Partnered with Aliyun and released a full-stack service platform in China to connect terminals with the cloud. Based on Linux and Android operating systems, the cloud platform is for turnkey solutions in voice interaction; Officially launched Rokid Glass, its smart AR glasses with AI voice and face recognition technologies
Plan for 2018: To put Rokid Glass into mass production

Company Name: Yixue Education
2015 to 2017 Funding (USD): 47.0 million
Latest Financing Round (USD): Angel, 41 million
Progress as of 2017: Partnered with over 500 schools in Tier 2–4 cities in China and successfully promoted its smart teaching platform Songshu AI
Plan for 2018: To develop a AI-powered adaptive learning system for k-12 education

64 Top-Funded AI Startups in Range of USD 15 to 150 million

Data Source: Tianyancha
CN link:

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Localization: Tingting Cao| Editor: Michael Sarazen, Meghan Han

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