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AI Investing Boom Is Not New To Tech Giants (At Least Not Their VC Arms)

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Last week, tech titans including Nvidia and Microsoft made some big AI announcements.

Nvidia’s shares jumped on guidance for second-quarter revenue that would be more than 50% above estimates, while Microsoft announced several AI-related tidbits at its Microsoft Build conference. In addition, Google and Salesforce’s venture arm — Salesforce Ventures1 — took part in the largest round of the week, Anthropic’s $450 million Series C.

However, while AI’s dominance of the new cycle may seem recent, for tech’s biggest software developers, chipmakers and hyperscalers, artificial intelligence has had their attention — and money — for years, according to Crunchbase data.

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Those tech giants have been placing a few AI bets for some time — although those bets have become significantly more expensive in recent years — while their venture arms have planted cash across dozens of startups through that time.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest players and how much they’re pouring into AI startups.


No company has made bigger headlines than Nvidia recently, as it just became the first trillion-dollar chip firm.

Nvidia is leading the charge for chips with better processing to train large language models for AI — a race that will only get more heated as more AI applications are built and better infrastructure is necessary to support them.

To help stay ahead of the game, Nvidia has made a fair share of investments in the ecosystem surrounding AI. The chip giant has made 18 different investments in VC-backed startups since the start of 2021, per Crunchbase data

The largest deals Nvidia participated in all have come this calendar year and include:

  • Adept AI’s $350 million Series B in March that gave the San Francisco-based startup a post-money valuation of at least $1 billion. Adept is developing AI models that cannot just respond to text commands — like a chatbot — but actually turn that command into actions. In theory, the company’s generative AI could help users do tasks from browsing the internet to navigating enterprise software tools.
  • Toronto-based Cohere’s $270 million round in May. The startup’s AI platform competes with OpenAI.
  • Drone startup Skydio’s $230 million Series E at a $2.2 billion valuation in February.

The chipmaker has thus far made four investments in the AI space this year with those rounds totaling $850 million. (It’s important to note that is the total raised in those rounds. Investors typically do not reveal their stake in an individual round.)

The price of doing business when it comes to AI investing has clearly increased. Last year, Nvidia made a half-dozen deals that totaled $297 million, per Crunchbase data. Those deals included investments in AI edge computing startup Utilidata and AI autonomous building platform PassiveLogic.

In 2021, the company made eight investments in VC-backed AI startups totaling $440 million. Those deals included conversational AI platform and AI development platform Saturn Cloud.

Microsoft and M12

No company made a bigger splash this year in AI than Microsoft with the news in January it had agreed to a “multiyear, multibillion-dollar investment” into OpenAI, the startup behind the artificial intelligence tools ChatGPT and DALL-E for a reported $10 billion.

Microsoft’s interest in AI is logical, as few companies have as many tentacles in every aspect of technology and innovation as the Redmond, Washington-based titan. From cloud to search to autonomous driving to analytics, Microsoft’s uses for AI are only limited by the imagination.

Along with OpenAl, the Windows creator also participated in the Adept AI deal and led an undisclosed round in London-based AI-enhanced software platform developer, which later announced a Series D of more than $250 million.

Since the beginning of 2021, Microsoft itself has made nine deals involved in the AI sector, according to Crunchbase data — three deals in each calendar year. 

Those deals include participating in self-driving vehicle startup Cruise’s $2 billion round in 2021 and London-based AI driving tech Wayve’s $181 million Series B last year.

However, Microsoft’s investments pale in comparison to the number of deals its venture arm — M12 — has made in that same period.

M12, which invests from a single fund that is replenished by Microsoft — the fund’s sole limited partner — and is driven by financial returns, has made more than 30 deals in the AI space in the last 29 months, per Crunchbase data.

In fact, the venture arm has made nearly 60 deals in AI-enhanced or related startups since 2019.

Some of the biggest deals it has participated in include:

  • Montreal AI tech startup Element AI’s $146 million round in 2019.
  • Health cloud and analytics provider Innovaccer’s $150 million Series E in 2021.
  • Seattle-based AI sales platform Outreach’s $114 million Series E in 2019. 

M12 also has led or co-led eight rounds since the start of 2021.

However, the firm seems to have stepped off the gas in its AI investing this year, as Crunchbase data indicates it has only participated in one round through the year’s first five months — San Francisco-based Typeface’s $65 million Series A. The startup has a generative AI application for creating enterprise content.

Google and GV

Similar to Microsoft, Google is ubiquitous when it comes to tech, with its hands in the cloud, drones, logistics, search, data and just about everything under the sun — so its interest in what AI can be applied to is limitless.

Despite Google’s recent participation in Anthropic’s huge round, the Mountain View, California-based search and cloud giant has only made eight deals in the AI space involving VC-backed startups since the start of 2021, according to Crunchbase data.

That does include some interesting deals, however, such as a $100 million Series B in AI-powered industrial decision-making startup InstaDeep and co-leading a $14 million Series D in AI agri-tech firm Cropin, both last year.

However, Google’s all-everything venture arm GV has been much busier.

In the last four-plus years, GV has made 45 investments in the space, per Crunchbase

That includes participating in Palo Alto, California-based SambaNova Systems’ huge $676 million round in 2021 and its $250 million raise the year before. SambaNova was founded as an AI chip designer.

Between 2012 and last year, the venture arm — which invests in rounds ranging from seed to late-stage growth — took part in two dozen funding rounds for VC-backed startups using AI.

This year, GV has taken part in both Typeface’s raise, as well as AI and automation recruiting solution Moonhub’s $4.4 million seed, which it co-led.

Intel Capital

Few companies are more intertwined with the very basic infrastructure of technology than Intel, and few corporate venture arms are as active as Intel Capital. The firm is one of the oldest and most prolific venture arms.

Not surprising, that is also true when it comes to investing in AI-related startups — as it unlikely wants to be left behind in innovation that could revolutionize chips and processors.

Intel Capital has made a whopping 107 investments in such startups since 2016, per Crunchbase data.

More recently, it has made almost two dozen deals since the beginning of 2021. That includes co-leading some significant rounds, such as:

  • Toronto-based AI chip designer Untether’s $125 million Series B in 2021.
  • San Francisco-based Anyscale’s $99 million Series C last year. The startup helps scale AI applications.

This year, Intel Capital has made only one announced deal in the AI space, leading a $20 million Series A for Israel-based MDI Health, which offers an AI-powered platform that provides decision support tools for drug treatments.

Salesforce Ventures

Granted, when one thinks about AI and who would invest, one would logically think of chipmakers, cloud providers and those involved in analytics and search.

However, many AI applications are marketing and sales related, so it makes sense that one of the largest CRM and sales platforms in the world would be making investments in the space — or at least its venture arm is.

Salesforce Ventures has taken part in more than 50 deals that involved AI-related startups since the start of 2019, per Crunchbase data.

Some of the more noteworthy rounds it took part in last year include Seattle-based AI-fueled sales enablement platform Highspot’s $248 million Series F, and Redwood City, California-based machine-learning data catalog Alation’s $123 million Series E.

This year, the venture arm has made four deals, including participating in Anthropic’s recent big raise. It also took part in Cohere’s huge $250 million round and a seed round for New York-based Hearth AI, a relationship management system.

Salesforce Ventures’s deals also show the rising price to invest in AI-related startups. While the venture arm made 10 investments in deals that totaled $736 million last year, the four deals this year have totaled $705 million.

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Illustration: Dom Guzman

  1. Salesforce Ventures is an investor in Crunchbase. They have no say in our editorial process. For more, head here.

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