Chinese AI Startup SenseTime Raises $227M Series C, Reportedly Doubles Its Valuation

Morning Report: China’s tech incumbents continue to invest large sums into AI startups. SenseTime is the latest recipient. 

Facial and image recognition technology has proven a critical capability in 2017. It’s a feature that has made its way as a main selling point in the iPhone X, and startups involved in the space are banking large sums of money on their ability to identify you and your objects.

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The latest beneficiary of this trend is China-based startup SenseTime. Founded in 2014, the company has raised a $227 million series C from China’s ecommerce giant Alibaba, putting SenseTime’s total fundraising tally at $637 million. The latest funding round entrenches SenseTime as a unicorn, and its valuation, according to China Money Network, is growing fast:

The company, a unicorn listed on China Money Network’s China Unicorn List, was previously valued at US$1.5 billion when it raised a US$410 million funding round led by CDH Investments and Sailing Capital in July. If true, it means the company’s valuation has doubled in just four months, a clear sign of increasing frothiness in how AI companies are valued in China.

Doubling a unicorn valuation, in just a touch over a quarter, is an impressive feat. And it’s one that calls attention to China’s tech incumbents and their deep pockets being put to work. After all, Baidu, China’s largest search engine, and Tencent, owner of the major social network WeChat, have also made significant investments in AI startups. And Asia, in general, is experiencing a boom in AI investment.

For AI startups in China, the competitive dynamics between these three major Chinese tech companies will likely continue to fuel investments large and small. Whether or not it will get as wild as the bikesharing wars, however, remains to be seen.

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