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Chinese A.I. start-up raises a record $600 million in funding round led by Alibaba

  • China's SenseTime said Monday that it had broken the record for the largest venture capital investment in the AI industry.
  • The firm provides facial-recognition technology that can be used for things like bank card verification.
  • Qualcomm backed SenseTime in a funding round last year, although the size of the investment has not been disclosed.

China's SenseTime has raised $600 million in a round of funding led by e-commerce giant Alibaba.

The company said Monday that it had broken the record for the largest venture capital investment in the artificial intelligence (AI) industry.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma waits on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York on September 19, 2014.
Jewel Samad | AFP | Getty Images
Alibaba founder Jack Ma waits on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York on September 19, 2014.

SenseTime is a little-known AI firm with a valuation reportedly higher than $3 billion. The firm provides facial-recognition technology that can be used for things like bank card verification and counts state-owned telecommunications giant China Mobile, phone maker Huawei and U.S. chipmaker Nvidia among its clients.

The latest round of investment followed a $410 million capital injection SenseTime received in July last year. Its Series C round, the third stage of funding for a company, was also backed by Chinese retailer Suning.com and Singaporean state wealth fund Temasek.

SenseTime has partnered with Honda on autonomous driving and Qualcomm on algorithms and smart technology. Qualcomm has also backed SenseTime in a funding round last year, although the size of the investment has not been disclosed.

SenseTime said it will use the raised capital to expand its AI platform, advance its technological innovation and open up new business opportunities.

Xiaoou Tang, co-founder of SenseTime, and Joe Tsai, co-vice chairman of Alibaba, at the Jumpstarter start-up pitch event in Hong Kong on November 21, 2017.
Vivek Prakash | Bloomberg via Getty Images
Xiaoou Tang, co-founder of SenseTime, and Joe Tsai, co-vice chairman of Alibaba, at the Jumpstarter start-up pitch event in Hong Kong on November 21, 2017.

"SenseTime has established an AI ecosystem anchored with robust research, deep industry collaboration and diverse partnerships," Li Xu, SenseTime's chief executive, said in a statement Monday.

"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."

China's government has said it wants to make the country the world leader in AI by 2030, by boosting the value of the sector to 1 trillion yuan ($147.7 billion). In January, it said it would build a state-backed $2.1 billion AI research and development campus to house around 400 tech businesses.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that SenseTime has a valuation reportedly higher than $3 billion.

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