I. Investing in AI
Investing in AI is not an easy job: AI technologies are black boxes and unless you are able to dig into lines of code they may be inscrutable. Simply looking at proof of concepts might not be enough to really understand the underlying stack behind specific applications, and this represents a big barrier for investors to efficiently allocate their capitals.
Generalist investors found then alternative ways to discern investable companies from the pile of tech-driven companies out there. Instead of looking at the code or the algorithms, they identified proxies for AI technologies, a sort of must-have list to help them cutting out media phenomena from interesting ventures:
i) Impossible problems: if a problem was not addressable before, it is really likely that a machine learning algorithm is behind the proposed solution of that problem;
ii) Data effect: it is common knowledge that neural nets require a lot of data to be trained, and if the startup has a way to create a virtuous data cycle (‘data network effect’) or has access to proprietary data, this is sometimes enough to be deemed as investable;
iii) Team and Patents: the biggest barrier to entry AI/ML is talents and IP. Therefore, if a team is composed of scientists/researchers and has patents (obtained or pending), it would already be a good candidate for an investment even without any revenues. This is driven by top tech companies acquiring smaller startups simply for their ‘brain power’ rather than their actual numbers.
II. So, who are the smart guys with the wallet?
AI specialists are luckily not that naive, but they are able to go much deeper and look behind the veil. As I already pointed out in previous articles, AI investors have different characteristics from more general investors:
i) Deep Capital Base: they usually should have a deep(er) capital base (it is not clear yet what AI approach will pay off);
ii) Higher Risk tolerance: investing in AI is a marathon, and it might take ten years or more to see a real return (if any). The investment so provided should allow companies to survive many potential “AI winters” (business cycles), and pursue a higher degree of R&D even to the detriment of shorter term profits. An additional key element of this equation is the regulatory environment, which is still missing and needs to be monitored to act promptly accordingly. Of course, in saying that, I only refer to the right hand of my AI Classification Matrix, because for narrow AI companies the risk tolerance may indeed be lower;
iii) First-Hand Coding/Engineering Experience: venture capitalists use the help of ‘venture partners’ or ‘scientists in residence’, but AI specialized investors are able to dig into codes and architecture by themselves.
III. List of AI Investors
I then compiled a list as extensive as possible of every investor I read or bumped into over the past months. It looks like there are at least 85 of them:
- 26 Ventures (NY): a seed investment fund focusing only on machine intelligence companies with 5 investments under the belt;
- 360 Capital Partners (Milan/Paris): they have a wider investment thesis, but they also recently embedded Robolution Capital (€80M) into their fund to invest in robotics startups;
- 500 Startups (Bay area): as many funds on the list, they don’t need any presentation. They have 15+ AI/ML companies in their portfolio;
- Accel Partners (Bay area): less than one year ago they had closed several deals in AI, and probably Paxata was the largest deal made in 2016;
- Amadeus Capital (London): you won’t find anything about AI in their investment strategy or any hint of machine learning in their speech or news. In spite of that though, their portfolio enumerates a list of fantastic AI-driven companies: Graphcore; AlgoDynamix; Five AI; Kreditech; Prowler.io; Ravelin; Speechmatics. Amadeus Capital also was one of the few investors at a seed stage in Improbable;
- AME Cloud Ventures (Bay area): their motto says ‘inventing the future with Data’ — quite self-explanatory I guess. One of the main active investors in this space;
- Amino Capital (Bay area): a Chinese-American investor that operates according to the following theme: Big Data + Machine Learning + Domain Agnostic;
- Amplify Partners (Bay area): investors in companies like Scaled Inference and Enlitic, they have a partner who wrote down a fantastic report on machine intelligence (David Beyer, see the report here);
- Andreessen Horowitz (Bay area): nothing to say on a16z because their work speaks for itself. They have though an interesting program called ‘Professor-in-residence’, through which they host CS experts in their fund for a year or so. Fei-Fei Li (the creator of ImageNet) was the last professor joining a16z, after Vijay Pande, probably one of the best biomed scientist of the last decade. They are investors in several machine learning companies, but in particular in what I believe to be the best AI company out there: Anki. Final point: one of their investors is Benedict Evans, who writes a brilliant blog/newsletter you should subscribe to, and they have a podcast page with very interesting insights on AI (check Frank Chen’s presentation here);
- Asgard Capital (Berlin): early-stage European investor with few investments done but a strong focus on AI. He is managed by Fabian Westerheide and they are also the main organizers of the conference “Rise of AI”;
- Baidu Venture (China): 6-months old $200M fund investing in AI, VR, and AR, part of the larger $3B Baidu’s investment strategy;
- Bee Partners (Bay area): small early stage fund ($30M) with a great portfolio, though: StatMuse, Skycatch, Iris Automation, and, of course, TubeMogul.
- Bloomberg Beta (Bay area): Roy Bahat leads the effort of investing the $150M under management raised over the last few years in two funds. Everyone knows about their beautiful and informative ‘Machine Intelligence Landscape’ which is updated every year by Shivon Zilis;
- BootstrapLabs (Bay area): founded by Ben Levy and Nicolai Wadstrom, it is a venture fund that does Seed and Early Stage Venture Investments with a hint of startup studio approach. They backed up companies like Mendel Health, Sibly.co, AEye and Roger.ai among others and they organize a brilliant event called “Applied AI Conference” in Silicon Valley;
- Breyer Capital (Bay area): investors in companies like Kensho and Circle, they raised with IDG a billion fund to invest in AI in China;
- British Robotics Seed Fund (Suffolk, UK): the BritBots fund is being managed by Sapphire Capital in partnership with High Growth Robotics, and it will invest check of £300k+ in 12 startups. The fund is closing in two months, so curious to see what companies they will initially invest in;
- Comet Labs (Bay area): investors with a mixed business model lying at the intersection between a VC, an incubator, and a research lab (Comet Labs Research Team);
- Correlation Ventures (San Diego): they don’t simply invest in analytics-driven startups, but their investment strategy and process are data-drive as well;
- Crunch Fund (Bay area): many VCs of this list put money into Crunch Fund back in 2011, and they did with $60M over 200 investments (with only one check exceeding $1M), including x.ai, uBiome, Datos IO, and Marble;
- CRV (Bay Area): series-A investors, currently investing their 16th fund. They just invested in the first weeks of 2017 into Rethink Robotics, Sense, and Lola Travel;
- Danhua Capital (Bay area/China): investors in AI and VR/AR technologies, it has recently raised $250M for their second fund;
- Data Collective (Bay area): Data Collective is really likely the best data investor out there. It looks that two managing partners Zachary Bogue and Matthew Ocko backed 14 of the recent ‘AI 100 companies’ list made by CBinsights. I am not entering into the details of their portfolio because I am impressed every time I see it. I only say one of the most recent acquisitions in AI industry: Nervana Systems (acquired by Intel);
- Deep Knowledge Ventures (Hong Kong): Dmitry Kaminskiy and DKV invest in AI, biotech and fintech companies, and they are well-known in the space because they are employing an AI (or at least a sort of intelligence machine) as a director in their investment board. This machine is called VITAL (Validating Investment Tool for Advancing Life Sciences);
- Dolan Family Ventures (NY): straight after having acquired Analytics Media Group (AMG), they announced the new fund investing in data, analytics, and technology;
- Eclipse Ventures (Bay area): investors in companies like Kindred and Kinema Systems, they prevalently seem to focus on hardware (which it may take the form of robots, IoT devices, semiconductors, etc.);
- EQT Ventures (Stockholm): even if EQT Ventures is in business since less than one year now, they were able to help and fund a discrete number on interesting companies such as Verto Analytics, Odeon Technologies, Watty. The fund, which will mainly focus on European companies, raised €566M to be invested in tech startups. Andreas Thorstensson, former Toborrow CTO and now partner at EQT, has also developed ‘Motherbrain’, an AI software that sources investment leads;
- Felicis Ventures (Bay area): seed investors in Scaled Inference, Vicarious, and later investors in Diffbot, as well as Cambrian Genomics and Fitbit, they started in 2006 with an angel fund ($4.5M) to end up in 2014 with a $200M proper fund;
- FF Venture Capital (NY): led by john frankel, they invest in Seed and/or Series A rounds with checks of $500k — $750k. They also created, in partnership with NYU Tandon School of Engineering, a new AI-accelerator called AI Nexus Lab. They are investors in Dashbot, Skycatch and Wade & Wendy among others;
- FirstMark Capital (NY): great data/AI investors, they bet on Cockroach Labs, Dataiku, HyperScience, and personal assistant Amy (X.ai). All those investments were led by Matt Turck, who shares his thoughts on his blog. I highly recommend it, it is an incredibly well-written, useful and inspiring blog;
- Formation 8 (Bay area): to my knowledge, they will not raise any additional fund anymore, but simply keep going doing follow-on investments for a while;
- Frontier Tech Ventures (Bay area): formerly known as Rothenberg Ventures, they mainly focus on seed stage investments. In the last year, it has been investigated (and still are I think) by the SEC and other agencies. In their portfolio there are companies like Tissue Analytics, Wade and Wendy and Gridspace;
- Frost Data Capital (LA area): half incubator half VC, Frost is a sort of hybrid structure that created companies such as Maana or Sentrian;
- Future Perfect Ventures (NY): they are investors in machine learning and blockchain technologies. jalak jobanputra, who is leading the effort of the newest second fund ($30M), is one of the top influential leaders in the Fintech space and has invested in Everledger, Civic, and Fusemachines among others;
- GE Ventures (Bay area/Boston/Houston): VC arm of GE, it is second only to GV or Intel Capital in terms of AI investments. They invested into Ayasdi, Sight Machine, and Human Longevity, in addition to many others;
- Georgian Partners (Canada): a very good Canadian group of investors (Justin LaFayette, Steve Leightell, Jane Podbelskaya, and others), one of the few funds investing in analytics and AI in Canada. Recently investors in WorkFusion and Integrate.ai, Georgian Partners released an interesting white paper on principles of applied analytics some time ago and a useful presentation on AI from their Chief Analytics Officer Chris Matys (who is part of the Impact team along with Jon Prial, Madalin Mihailescu, and others);
- Giza Venture Capital (Tel Aviv): tech-driven investors in cleantech, healthcare, and semiconductors/IoT, they have invested in Logz.io in 2015;
- Glasswing Ventures (Boston): still in the process of properly raising the fund (target at $150M), it is managed by former partners at Fairhaven Capital;
- Global Community of Innovation Fund (Tel Aviv): this is the second fund raised by Shenzhen-based Chinese technology firm Kuang-Chi Group to invest in AI, IoT, smart cities and robotics. Although Chinese, the fund is located in Israel, but it will invest worldwide;
- Google Ventures (Bay area): officially renamed GV in 2016, it is the venture capital arm of Alphabet which grows of $300M per year. The team (Tom Hulme, Blake Byers, Laura Thompson, Joe Kraus, etc. ) is led by David Krane and they invested in fantastic companies as, for example, Savioke, Momentum Machines, Orbital Insight, Kindred, MightyAI, and MindMeld. M.G. Siegler, one of GV’s general partners, also writes at 500ish Words: definitely a must-read blog.
- Greylock Partners (Bay area): Greylock Partners has recently raised a billion fund to invest in tech companies, both at consumer and enterprise level, on any stage, anywhere. Investors in Facebook, Dropbox, Linkedin and many others (they also invested in Medium itself), they have an interesting portfolio of AI and analytics companies: Ozlo, Trifacta, SumoLogic, and the robo-advisor Wealthfront, only to name a few. On a final note, Reid Hoffman (Greylock partner and Linkedin co-founder) has backed a new $27M fund to promote research into AI in the public interest;
- Grishin Robotics (NY): founded by Dmitry Grishin, it is a $100M fund focused on smart hardware, robotics and IoT.
- High-Tech Grunderfonds (Bonn): German investors with investments in companies like Cunesoft, Mecuris and Evalu, they will host the conference “Rise of AI” this year in Berlin together with Asgard VC;
- Horizons Ventures (Hong Kong): to not be confused with Horizon Ventures, they are the investors behind Cortica, TempoAI, Sentient Technologies, DeepMind, Siri and Viv;
- Hyperplane (Boston): seed stage investment firm which recently invested in Tellus Labs and Sentenai;
- IA Ventures (NY): founded by Roger Ehrenberg, it has invested in x.ai, Tellus Labs, Lygos, DataRobot and Sight Machine among others;
- Innovation Works (Pittsburgh): seed stage investor that helps entrepreneurs also through a series of different programs. Plenty of investments in robotics (e.g., BossaNova), AI software (e.g., Conversant Labs) and life science applications (e.g., Qualaris);
- Intel Capital (Bay area): these are their official numbers: in 25 years, $11.8 billion invested in over 1,478 companies in 57 countries; 214 portfolio companies have gone public and more than 403 were acquired or participated in a merger. Impressive;
- Kensington Capital Partners (Canada): another big Canadian investor, with a hybrid structure to invest in cutting-edge companies (e.g., D-Wave Systems) but also in other funds as well (e.g., Georgian Partners — see above for details)
- Khosla Ventures (Bay area): they don’t need any introduction. They backed several AI and analytics companies over the past few years, as for instance Ayasdi, Scaled Inference, Vicarious, Kaggle, Atomwise, Lumiata, Zebra Medical Vision, Bay Labs, Ginger.io, and many others;
- Lenovo Capital (Beijing): Lenovo Capital and Incubator Group (LCIG) represents the $500M Lenovo’s venture arm; Face++ is an example of recent company they invested into;
- London Co-Investment Fund (London): managed by John Spindler and Capital Enterprise, they have a ‘Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme’ (to invest in early stage AI companies coming out from their member universities and accelerators) and they launched the ‘Turing Initiative’ to co-invest with four other funds monthly in AI-driven startups;
- Loup Ventures (Minneapolis): super recent fund launched this year with one investment under the belt (Neurable). Let’s wait and see.
- Lux Capital (Bay area/NY): Lux Capital is made by a terrific group of science-driven investors (Josh Wolfe, Shahin Farshchi, Bilal Zuberi, and many others) and they invested in great startups such as Cape Analytics, Zoox, Clarifai, Orbital Insights, and Nervana Systems (part of Intel now), only to name a few. They also have a ‘scientist-in-residence’ to help them in the investment process (Samuel Arbesman — check out his new book ‘Overcomplicated’);
- Madrona Venture Group (Seattle): Madrona Venture Group is a 20+ years investor, which spotted out companies like Amazon but also Algorithmia, Turi (now part of Apple), Mighty AI, Context Relevant, and Integris. One of their Venture Partners is Oren Etzioni, who runs the nonprofit Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. At AI2, as it is known, they focused a lot on NLP and semantic analysis over the past few years, as well as they were able to spin-off two successful projects ( KITT.ai and more recently XNOR.ai);
- March Capital Partners (LA area): they raised last year a $240M fund with the goal of investing in AI, ML and Big Data technologies. They have already invested in Dojo Madness and co-founded two accelerators in the Bay (The Fabric and the Hive). In addition, one of the founding partners has been hosting an annual summit since a few years now to introduce startups to investors;
- MMC Ventures (London): MMC Ventures has more than £160M under management, 6.5% of which personally invested by MMC team members. In the past two years, the multi-funds have been recognized as one of the most active funds in the UK. They recently co-led a Series A round in Signal Media, GrowthIntel, as well as Sky-Futures. The Head of Research David Kelnar has written a wonderful primer on AI and sharpened the fund investment thesis around AI with a deep analysis of the AI landscape in the UK;
- NEA (Bay area): they have one of the largest portfolios out there, and great AI/machine learning investments include The Climate Corporation, Kensho, tamr, Turi (formerly Dato), Wit.ai, DataRobot and many other;
- Norwest Venture Partners (Bay area): very large investors with presence in India and Israel, they invested in companies like AnalyticsMD, CognitiveScale, and Exabeam;
- Notion Capital (London): Notion Capital is one of the few European investors in AI, and they bet on DueDil, FiveAI, DemystData and others. Alexandre Flamant, part of the Notion team, is also one of the organizers of LondonAI, a great meetup in the City;
- Octopus Ventures (London): they recently raised a £120M fund to invest specifically in AI in the UK after the three great exits they had over the past few years (Evi Technologies, Swiftkey, Magic Pony Technology). They will invest early stage anything from £250,000 to £25m in the first round of funding;
- OS Fund (NY): founded by Bryan Johnson after selling Braintree to Ebay, it is a VC that invests ‘with the purpose to improve the lives of billions of people around the world for generations to come’. I love the spirit they invest with, and they invested in incredible companies (Emulate, Human Longevity, 3Scan, Viv, Vicarious, Atomwise, etc.);
- OurCrowd (Israel): a different type of VC which places initial bets on several companies, and then raises additional money from their network (the crowdfunding part). They invested in Zebra Medical Vision and VocalZoom among others;
- Permutation Ventures (Bay area): a fund managed by Riva-Melissa Tez, who by the way wrote a really interesting piece on AI hype which I highly recommend. They invested in Crossing Minds, a sort of recommendation engine, which seems to be advised by Sebastian Thrun (the founder of Udacity);
- pi Ventures (Bangalore): founded by Manish Singhal and Umakant Soni, they just announced their first close ($13M) a few months ago for half of the target fund ($30M). They plan to invest in 18–20 early-stage startups in the following 3–4 years and they just completed their fourth investment;
- Playfair Capital (London): to my knowledge, Playfair Capital was not a proper AI-oriented VC fund until Nathan Benaich came in (subscribe to his newsletter, is really well-written and informative). Great investors, they rapidly became a cornerstone of AI London ecosystem (and they also organize an annual AI Summit and a meetup). Investors in Numerai, DueDil, Mapillary, Ravelin, Seldon, and others;
- Plug and Play Ventures (Bay area): investors, incubator, and innovation platform, Plug and Play Tech Center is the symbol of the “startup ecosystem”. They invested or help to start a bunch of companies such as Api.ai, Sensay, fido.ai, Predikt, and others;
- Procyon Ventures (Boston): Drew Volpe is managing the fund, which invested in Infinite Analytics, Weft, and Smarking;
- Promus Ventures (Chicago): led by Mike Collett, this fund has a quite incredible AI portfolio: Kensho, CrowdFlower, Gigster, June, Cape Analytics, Gauss Surgical, as well as other AI stealth startups. They also were investors in 4 of the top 100 on CBI’s latest top 100 AI Company list. Their investment strategy is also pretty clear (check it here);
- Quantum Valley Investments (Waterloo, Canada): a $100M (CDN) fund which invests in ‘Quantum Information Science’ companies. The founder Mike Lazaridis is, for the ones who do not know that, the former founder of BlackBerry. The reason why this fund is within the AI list is because of the recent wave of results in quantum computing thanks to machine learning, as well as the potential impact it of quantum computing on AI (a few articles here, here, and here). His last investment has been Cognitive Systems;
- Real Ventures (Montreal): although Real Ventures does not claim to specifically invest exclusively in AI technologies, a quick look at its portfolio clearly positions it as one of the most prolific investors in the space in the Canadian ecosystem. They backed companies like iSentium; plotly; Imagia and, more recently, Element AI, the new company lead by Yoshua Bengio and Jean-Francois Gagné;
- RRE Ventures (NY): 20+ years in the industry, $1.5B under management, and almost 400 investments in their portfolio. They were also investors in Palantir, as well as Digital Genius, Yhat, and Jibo.
- Salesforce Ventures (Bay area): the venture arm of Salesforce was involved in the $8M round of Amplero, which was its biggest AI deal of the year, as well as 6sense, Msg.ai, and Qubit;
- Samsung Ventures (Tel Aviv): in addition to pre-existing funds, Samsung has just launched NEXT, a new $150M fund in emerging technologies. They have already invested in MindMeld (formerly Expect Labs) as well as Dashbot and BioBeats;
- Schibsted Media Group (London): the Venture and Foresight group at Schibsted is acting as a VC arm for the media colossus Schibsted. Although I don’t think they have done any investment yet, the team is led by azeem Azhar, a former entrepreneur, investor, technologist, and the list goes on. He also writes ‘The Exponential View’, a brilliant blog/newsletter, which you should definitely subscribe;
- Sequoia Capital (Bay area): they have been in business for 45 years now, and their portfolio is composed of companies like Orbital insight, Horizon robotics, Domino Data Lab, Mapillary, and many others, including even Mu Sigma;
- Serena Data Ventures (Paris): a less than a month old $80M European VC with a focus on data technologies. They recently closed the first investment in Heuritech, a French startup specialized in deep learning technologies. They also teamed up with Firstmark to launch ‘Data Driven Paris’;
- Singulariteam (Tel Aviv): a super angel investor group led by Moshe Hogeg and Kenges Rakishev, with a quite nice portfolio: Zirra, General Robotics, Beyond Verbal, to name a few;
- StartX (Bay area): the Stanford StartX fund offers to invest 10% of any venture round raised by companies that go through the university-affiliated startup program. They were investors in companies like Gauss Surgical (ca. $13M in the last round) and PredictionIO (acquired by Salesforce);
- Two Sigma Ventures (NY): a division of Two Sigma Investments, the investment arm of Two Sigma, TSV got done important deals especially in the robotics space (e.g., Jibo, Rethink Robotics, 3Drobotics), but also Kasisto, Anki, and Ufora;
- Visionnaire Ventures (Bay area): they announced the second fund last year (target at $250M), after having invested the first fund of $80M in companies like ModBot, Savioke, LeapMind, Content Analytics and others;
- White Star Capital (London): under the supervision of Christian Hernandez and Eric Martineau-Fortin, the fund has invested in particularly interesting companies, such as mnubo, Aire, and Key.me;
- Wildcat Venture Partners (Bay area): a fund which invests only in later stage companies according to their Traction Gap Framework. Investors in Kabbage, RocketFuel, WorkFusion, and Amplero, they also offer in partnership with Carnegie Mellon (CMU) a Scholarships in Entrepreneurship and Innovation;
- Xerion Investments (NY): they invest in ‘Applied Artificial Intelligence-as-a-Service’ (AIaaS), but up to date I have no idea of what companies they invested into or the size of the fund;
- Zetta Venture Partners (Bay area): Mark Gorenberg, Jocelyn Goldfein and Ash Fontana (the guy behind the fundraising business at AngelList) have raised a second fund of about $100M to invest in AI startups like Tractable, Kaggle, and Domino. Check out also this really nice post from their MPs (‘Growing up in the intelligence era’);
- Zhen Fund (Beijing): investors in Vincross, Momenta.ai, Polly.ai, they joined the forces a few months ago with other 9 angel and venture firms to launch an AI-accelerator in China.
A final remark: there is a fund which does not make AI investments, but it is an AI investor. It is called ‘The AI VC’, and it claims to be entirely powered by an artificial intelligence engine. THE AI VC has ‘Unicorn Identification Capabilities’ (or at least it claims to have them) and it was created by anonymous founders. Well, even if the reality is that it is simply another RocketAI, I thought it was at least worthy to mention it because the concept is intriguing, regardless of the real value of the fund.
Furthermore, it is useful to notice that AI is sometimes seen as an asset class. Indeed, Smith & Williamson has just launched a fund to “offer investors pure exposure to a concentrated portfolio of companies that derive most, or all, of their revenues and growth from AI”. Well, let’s see what will happen!
IV. Other Works
This is my personal list. I have performed an extensive research work, but I still might be missing someone or misleading some deals or investment strategies (please let me know if this is the case!). However, I believe this is a temporary list because in five years everyone will be investing in AI. I will try to keep this list as updated as possible in the meantime, so check it out from time to time to see if anyone new is on the list.
Furthermore, many more interesting articles and researches exist about this topic. I would highly recommend you to have a look at the incredible works CB Insights and Anand Sanwal have done in the past 6–9 months about investing in AI (here and here some of the articles on VC, here for CVC, and here for AI investors with a healthcare focus). Tracxn is also a good source for major investors in AI startups.
On the other side, I would suggest to also check the European machine intelligence landscape by the Project Juno team (Libby Kinsey, Sebastian Spiegler, Laure Andrieux), in addition to the famous MI infographic made by Shivon Zillis, (see above Bloomberg Beta).
*Note: the initial list published in Feb. 2017 was made by 77 funds. Thanks to David Kelnar, Nathan Benaich, Alex Flamant, Andreas Thorstensson, Mike Collett, for the post-publication comments.