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Eye On AI: xAI’s Backers Have A Lot Of Other Bets Besides Musk’s LLM

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This column is a look back at the week that was in AI. Read the previous one here.

Looks like we are back to weekly billion-dollar raises at multibillion-dollar valuations, at least when it comes to generative AI startups.

Last week, Scale AI raised $1 billion in a round led by Accel that values the data labeling and evaluation startup at a stunning $13.8 billion. And this week, of course, Elon Musk’s generative AI startup, xAI, officially announced its $6 billion round that values the company at $24 billion.

The xAI round — which included investment from Valor Equity Partners, Vy Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, Fidelity Management & Research Co., Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and Kingdom Holding Co., among others — makes Musk’s startup the second-most-valuable generative AI company in the world behind only competitor OpenAI.

While the round had been rumored for a long time and some investors had leaked — especially since everyone knew many would be the same as those that helped Musk take X, formerly Twitter, private —  it was still interesting to see the overlap so many investors have with some of the other biggest LLM players.

Of course the most obvious is Sequoia. The VC giant reportedly took part in OpenAI’s $300 million share sale at a valuation between $27 billion and $29 billion.

However, Sequoia was not alone in that deal. Andreessen Horowitz also was a part of that deal, and the Silicon Valley venture titan hasn’t stopped there when it comes to its generative AI aspirations.

Andreessen also led a Series A worth about $418 million for Paris-based Mistral AI — which is taking a somewhat different approach to LLM building than OpenAI, as it is focused on taking an open-source approach. (Earlier this month it was reported the startup was closing in on a round of about $600 million from existing investors General Catalyst and Lightspeed Venture Partners that would value it at $6 billion.)

Investors obviously can invest in more than one startup in a very specific industry like the generative AI/LLM building vertical. Microsoft, too, is an investor in OpenAI, Mistral and United Arab Emirates-based artificial intelligence firm G42.

However, VCs used to stay away from overlapping investments and investing in competitors. That norm seems to have changed slightly as the venture capital industry became bigger, and now it looks like the AI craze has obliterated that rule of thumb completely.

VC firms are clearly fearful of missing out on the AI revolution — perhaps the biggest shift since mobile — and old ways don’t seem to apply.

Things that caught our eye and other stuff:

  • Another investor in the xAI round also was noteworthy — not because it has invested in other competitors, but because it has been a big player in AI recently. In the last year and a half or so, Fidelity Management & Research Co. has led a $642 million minority investment in AI cloud infrastructure company CoreWeave at a $7 billion valuation, took part in a $500 million-plus Series I for AI-enhanced data analytics company Databricks that valued the company at $43 billion, and led a $150 million Series D for chip startup Astera Labs that valued the company at nearly $3.2 billion in late 2022. Those are some massive rounds that all revolve around AI.
  • Not everything revolved around Elon Musk and xAI the last few days in AI. A New York-based startup that raised a small $5 million seed also caught our attention. ThinkLabs AI is looking to enhance grid planning through a combination of intelligent automation and AI, and has developed an AI copilot to help control room operators more effectively operate complex modern grids. The round was co-led by Powerhouse Ventures and Active Impact Investments.

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Illustration: Dom Guzman

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