Chinese AI startup SenseTime eyes global expansion to sustain growth

Cameras for SenseTime Group Ltd.'s autonomous driving system are mounted inside a Lincoln Motor Co. MKZ sedan during a test-drive in Hangzhou, China, on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. SenseTime's image-identifying algorithms have made it the world's most valuable AI startup and an early leader in China, where it's won contracts with the country's top phonemakers, largest telecommunications company, and biggest retailer. Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

SenseTime Group Ltd., the world’s most valuable artificial intelligence startup, plans to sustain growth by expanding globally and diving deeper into arenas from autonomous cars to health care.

The company counts education, self-driving vehicles as well as surgery and diagnostics among areas ripe for commercializing AI, Managing Director Esther Wong said. It’s now actively seeking out investments in fellow startups that can benefit from its own technology, she told the Bloomberg Invest Asia forum in Hong Kong.

Investors are handing billions of dollars to Chinese AI startups from SenseTime to Face++, hoping to ride a wave of support from a government intent on becoming the world leader in the technology by 2030. SenseTime, last valued at more than $4.5 billion, is said to be aiming to raise new funds this year. Wong declined to comment on that.

The startup specializes in systems that analyze faces and images on an enormous scale and works with retailers and health-care researchers but not directly with the Chinese government, Wong said. The company has been profitable for two years and has grown to 3,000 people, of which a third work in research, she said. SenseTime is based in Hong Kong and China, with offices in Japan and Singapore and plans for more internationally.

“The topline has been growing at triple digits for the past four years. Now that we have a bigger base, it probably won’t be as high going forward,” Wong said. “Even though we’re a startup, the founding team has been doing AI for almost three decades.”

The former dealmaker said SenseTime’s 200 AI scientists will prove invaluable in spotting investment opportunities beyond the dozen or so startups it’s already backed. The company’s over-arching goal is to get AI in front of a swathe of industries and as many people as possible, using data to generate the requisite algorithm via machine learning, she said.

Wong also stressed that the startup doesn’t own any of that information. That data belongs to its clients, she added.

“Most companies still don’t have a proper AI strategy yet or they don’t know how to monetize AI,” she said.

Also read:

SenseTime backer All-Stars Investment raises $500m to rev up IPO train

World’s most valued AI startup SenseTime readies $2b fresh funding

Bloomberg

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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.