After setting up EV unit, Xiaomi bets on $2b self-driving chip maker Black Sesame

A "MI" logo stands outside the main entrance of the Xiaomi Corp. headquarters in Beijing, China. Photographer: Edmond Lococo/Bloomberg

Black Sesame Technologies, a Chinese developer of artificial intelligence (AI)-based self-driving computing chips, is close to a valuation of nearly $2 billion after raising “hundreds of millions of US dollars” from investors including Xiaomi’s industry investment fund.

Shanghai-based Black Sesame raked in the new capital through a strategic investment and two Series C tranches of capital injection, the firm announced on Wednesday.

Hubei Xiaomi Yangtze River Industry Fund led the transactions with participation from Wingtech Technology, which assembles smartphones for top Android brands including Xiaomi as the biggest such business in China. FulScience, an intelligent vehicle manufacturer jointly established by Chinese auto companies FAW Group, Fawer Automotive Parts and Huizhou Desay SV Automotive, poured money as a strategic investor.

These transactions represent Xiaomi’s earliest bets on automotive supply chain after the Chinese smartphone giant announced in late March its plan of entering the automotive sector with a new smart electric vehicle (EV) business.

It later completed the official business registration of the wholly-owned subsidiary in September, targeting to make an initial investment of 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in the new venture and a total investment size of $10 billion over the next ten years.

In the Black Sesame deal, investing alongside Xiaomi were SummitView Capital, FutureX Capital, Oriza Hua, Lenovo Capital & Incubator Group, Sunic Capital, China Automotive Chip Industry Innovation Strategic Alliance, and others. Black Sesame said that it is in the process of raising a Series C+ round.

Founded in 2016, Black Sesame primarily offers image processing, perception algorithm, and System-on-Chip (SoC) design to enable autonomous driving. Having released two series of smart driving AI chips to date, the startup delivers customised Level 2 and Level 3 advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and self-driving solutions to auto companies like Robert Bosch, SAIC Motor, and BYD.

Upon the completion of the new transactions, Black Sesame will leverage the investors’ automotive industry resources and capital support to further advance the product R&D and commercialisation, upgrade technologies, consolidate technical barriers, and actively build its self-driving ecosystem.

The new financing followed the completion of its Series B round at nearly $100 million in April 2019. SL Capital, a semiconductor-focused fund affiliated with China’s Legend Capital, led the deal. Other investors include SAIC Motor, SK China, China Merchants Venture, Delta Capital, and FengHe Fund Management.

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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.