SoftBank fund plans $1b investment in Chinese AI giant SenseTime

SenseTime Co-Founder Xu Chiheng demonstrates surveillance software of his company on a laptop at the SenseTime office in Beijing, China, October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

SoftBank Vision Fund is seeking to invest almost $1 billion in China’s SenseTime Group Ltd. as it seeks a stake in the world’s most valuable artificial intelligence startup, people familiar with the matter said.

The fund, created by SoftBank Group Corp., and SenseTime are still finalizing terms of the deal and the details could still change, the people said, asking not to be identified as the details are private. The company has already announced two other funding rounds this year as it raised more than $1.2 billion.

SenseTime, a four-year-old startup, makes systems that analyze faces and images on a huge scale and contributes to China’s vast surveillance system. The company is one of a host of local startups at the forefront of Beijing’s goal of making the country the world leader in AI by 2030.

Tokyo-based SoftBank has made China one of the main destinations for the Vision Fund, a near $100 billion pool of money that’s become the world’s largest technology investor. It’s already backed sectors as diverse as robotics, ride-hailing, e-commerce and semiconductors. The fund has put billions into Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing and has taken a stake in ZhongAn Online P&C Insurance Co.

SenseTime fits into SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son’s vision to invest in a future dominated by AI and data. His firm spent $32 billion to acquire ARM Holdings Plc, the chip designer that he believes will be a linchpin in the development of artificial intelligence.

SenseTime declined to comment, and a representative for the SoftBank Vision Fund didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

SoftBank would join some of the biggest names in technology and investment if the deal goes ahead. Qualcomm Inc. backed SenseTime last year while Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Temasek Holdings Pte joined April’s $600 million funding round. Fidelity International, Silver Lake and Tiger Global Management took part in a June financing that raised $620 million and boosted its valuation to more than $4.5 billion.

Beyond facial recognition and identity verification, SenseTime is pushing into autonomous driving and augmented reality. It’s developing a service code-named “Viper” to parse data from thousands of live camera feeds — a platform it expects will prove invaluable in mass surveillance.

Bloomberg

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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).

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  • 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.