Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) startup SenseTime Group, valued at more than US$2 billion, is planning an IPO but is in no particular rush, its founder told Reuters.
The Hong Kong and Beijing-based firm is a leader among Chinese AI start-ups that are enjoying fast growth amid demand from the government and private sector for their facial recognition technology.
SenseTime provides applications for facial recognition, video analysis and other areas including autonomous driving. China’s Ministry of Public Security and local heavyweights such as China Mobile, HNA Group and Huawei Technologies are among the major clients of the three-year-old firm.
Tang Xiaoou, co-founder of SenseTime, also a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told Reuters: “We are growing very fast, funding is never an issue. We can get as much as we want. Big-name investors are queuing to get in. So for us, we are not in a hurry to IPO. But at the right time, we definitely will.”
He added that Hong Kong, the United States and China will be considered for an initial public offering.
“We don’t have a fixed timetable. It could be next year or the year after, depending on whether it makes business sense,” he said, adding SenseTime was also seeking a finance chief.
Earlier this month, Reuters reported SenseTime plans to raise about US$500 million in a new round of financing that will close later this year, which is expected to be the largest for start-ups in the field of AI. In case of successful fundraising, SenseTime’s market capitalization will reach US$2 billion.
SenseTime said later that it has sealed an investment from chipmaker Qualcomm in the funding round, without disclosing the size of the investment. Both firms formed a strategic collaboration to develop AI-enhanced chips in October.
Tang said the company was valued “above” US$2 billion and an ongoing funding round would last until the end of 2017. But he would not reveal the amount being raised.
Among its other investors are China’s CDH Investments and Sailing Capital.
In addition, Tang said SenseTime plans to open a US research and development center as early as next year.
Recognized for its expertise in facial recognition technology, SenseTime, had won a US$100 million deal to develop autonomous driving technology with a partner, said Tang, but he declined to name the partner.
Tang said SenseTime, which has a proprietary technology framework called Parrots, similar to Google’s Tensor Flow and Facebook’s Torch, is ahead of domestic rivals in revenue, client size and business areas, according to Reuters.
The startup has a training database of two billion faces and 10 billion images and videos, and its facial recognition error rate stands at one in100 million, according to Tang.
It is now engaged in 14 sectors including medical imaging and high-performance computing, he said.
“Our target is definitely not to create a small company to be acquired, but rather a ‘platform company’ that dominates with original core technology like Google and Facebook,” Tang said.
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