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World's top AI startup 'set to raise  US$2b'

Fundraising talks are at an early stage for SenseTime, which specialises in facial recognition systems

Hong Kong

SENSETIME Group Ltd, the world's most valuable artificial-intelligence startup, is beginning preparations for a new financing round, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The Chinese company aims to raise US$2 billion in fresh funding this year, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. SenseTime, which counts Alibaba Group Holding Ltd as an investor, is working with advisers on the fundraising, said the sources.

The Beijing-based firm raised more than US$1.2 billion last year, including a round announced in May that valued it at more than US$4.5 billion. The funding, from firms including Fidelity International, Silver Lake Partners and Hopu Capital, followed a deal to sell a stake to Qualcomm Inc in 2017 that valued SenseTime at a more than US$1.5 billion. Bloomberg News reported in July that SoftBank Vision Fund was also seeking to take a nearly US$1 billion stake.

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Deliberations are at an early stage, and details of the deal could change, the people said. A representative of SenseTime declined to comment.

Investors are handing billions of dollars to Chinese artificial intelligence 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. But the growing hype is encouraging everything from video services to language schools to claim artificial intelligence as integral to their business to win funding. Some investors have warned that the sector could decline if those companies fail to grow their revenue.

SenseTime specialises in systems that analyse faces and images on a large scale and works with policing bodies, retailers and health-care researchers in and outside China. The startup says it has grown by 400 per cent growth in past years as it encompassed more industries, from cameras to driverless Honda cars. BLOOMBERG