After a three-year span when seemingly every artificial intelligence with a promising product or pedigreed founders was immediately acquired by Google or Facebook or Apple or IBM or Microsoft or Salesforce or [insert hot tech company here], I think we’ve finally reached the era of the independent AI startup.
There are two big reasons why I think this is the case:
- There are so many AI startups right now that even a handful of admittedly huge tech companies can’t possibly absorb them all. And with the pace of innovation in open source AI, it’s only going to get easier for entrepreneurs with the tech chops to start companies.
- Large enterprises are seriously looking at AI as a strategic investment, which means there’s a lot of money to be made in helping them adopt it. If you can realistically envision a future where you’re closing respectable deals, it might be a lot easier to turn down a fast exit.
The following news yesterday helped illuminate this trend for me:
Xnor.ai raised $2.6 million: This company, which spun out the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, is building AI models that can run directly on consumer (or industrial) devices.
Suplari raised $3.1 million: Suplari is still in stealth mode, but one of its investors calls it an “intelligent app.” The company says it’s doing “data driven business optimization"—and that’s about all.
Propulse Analytics raised $1.4 million: Seemingly inspired by Stitch Fix and others, Propulse is trying to help retailers figure out buyers’ tastes via computer vision.
Clarifai opens SF office: The fact that computer vision startup Clarifai, which has raised more than $40 million, hasn’t been acquired yet (despite, I assume, more than a few offers) is a testament to its long-term ambitions. That it feels comfortable hiring a director of research and opening an office on the opposite coast (it’s based in NYC) is a further sign of the company’s confidence.
So. Much. Activity.
Yes, there’s a lot of AI-washing happening right now. And, yes, the ultimate success of any startup will involve figuring out a way to deal with formidable (probably an understatement) competition from Google, Amazon and Microsoft, among others. But there’s also some real innovation happening—and you only get a chance to be the next billion-dollar company if you stick around long enough to play the game.