This week saw the launch of the somewhat controversial crypto project Worldcoin — which is backed by Altman’s Tools For Humanity startup. The project’s World ID platform is attempting to create unique digital identities — based on blockchain technology — for people by scanning their eyes with a small orb. The idea has led to many questions surrounding AI, data and privacy.
Altman was also revealed this week as one of several investors behind Vital Biosciences’ $48 million funding round. The startup — which has brought back some memories of Theranos — aims to make blood diagnostic testing easier and quicker.
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If it seems like Altman is more in the news for things non-OpenAI related, that’s likely because it is becoming more and more true as he has become one of the Valley’s most active investors in everything from renewable energy to health care to — of course — AI.
According to Crunchbase data, Altman has made nearly 100 deals just as an individual or angel investor, many more through other firms he co-founded, and even through accelerator giant Y Combinator, where he served as president for five years. It is widely assumed his actual investments number well into the hundreds.
While a complete, comprehensive list of all of Altman’s bets is difficult to gather, a quick glance at what is known reveals some impressive names and numbers.
As an individual investor, Altman has invested in at least nine unicorns — and likely more.
The list includes the likes of San Francisco-based HR tech startup Gusto; Fremont, California-based brain machine interface Neuralink — founded by another guy who’s been in the news this week (as always) — and San Francisco-based cyber insurance company Coalition.
Altman also has a significant number of investments through a variety of firms including Altman Capital, Apollo Projects and Hydrazine Capital, as well as through his more than decadelong association with Y Combinator.
Apollo Projects — which Altman founded with his brothers Jack Altman and Max Altman — also has made noteworthy deals. The early-stage firm, which provides “funding for moonshots,” took part in the $195 million round for Berkeley, California-based KoBold Metals just last month.
KoBold uses artificial intelligence to mine for valuable metals such as cobalt, copper, nickel and lithium used in the production of batteries for a variety of sectors, including electric vehicles. The startup has built a database about the Earth’s layers and uses algorithms to make predictions about where mineral deposits are around the world.
A deeper look
However, anyone assuming as an individual investor Altman’s focus is solely on applications for AI would be proven incorrect.
There is no denying there is an AI angle to many of his deals. In the investments Crunchbase data lists to Altman as a solo investor, many lean very heavy into AI.
Those include being an early investor in San Francisco-based Rain, which is designing chips that can imitate the way the human brain works — allowing processing and memory to happen in the same place, which could allow AI algorithms to run much faster and at reduced energy costs.
Altman also has looked at how AI can be used in biotech and health. He is a backer of Boston-based 1910 Genetics, a biotechnology company integrating AI, computation and biological automation to improve drug development, and Palo Alto, California-based Spring Discovery, which equips scientists with software that allows them to teach AI to identify cell behavior to get further insights.
However, some investments Altman has made do not scream AI at first glance.
Los Angeles-based Queer Spaces is another company Altman has supported. The startup is a chat platform for building queer communities, serving the entirety of the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
Altman even recently co-led a $29 million round in New York-based edtech startup Campus.edu, and also was an early backer of a San Francisco-based house cleaning service — Exec — more than a decade ago.
On the energy and environment front, Altman led a $500 million Series E for Everett, Washington-based Helion Energy, a fusion power startup developing the world’s first fusion generators. He also has backed New York-based Nautilus Labs (we’ve talked about this deal before), which uses machine learning to try to help ocean shippers lower emissions and fuel waste while also maximizing commercial returns.
Fintech and e-commerce also have been of particular interest, including several in crypto and bitcoin. That includes New York-based startup Arkam Intelligence, which uses AI to provide real-time data on cryptocurrency networks and the entities behind them.
While there is no denying several startups harnessing AI have received a check from Altman — such as AI time management platform Motion and pilot assistant technology developer Beacon AI — the diversity of his portfolio suggests not even ChatGPT could predict his next deal.
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Photo: TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco, via Wikimedia Commons.
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