AI start-up SambaNova raises $904m from investors including Temasek, GIC

CEO of SambaNova Systems Rodrigo Liang (left) and a data center server rack.
CEO of SambaNova Systems Rodrigo Liang (left) and a data center server rack.PHOTOS: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - SoftBank Group is leading a US$676 million (S$904 million) funding round for SambaNova Systems, a company whose hardware and software is used to run artificial intelligence applications.

The investment, valuing the start-up at US$5 billion, will come from SoftBank Vision Fund 2.

Temasek and GIC will also invest in the company for the first time, according to a statement reviewed by Bloomberg News. Other investors in the round include funds managed by BlackRock, Intel Capital, GV and Walden International.

The 400-person company, based in Palo Alto, California, began speaking publicly about its product only in December. It was founded in 2017 by Stanford University professors, one of whom had won a MacArthur Genius Award. It has now raised US$1 billion.

SambaNova's approach to powering artificial intelligence is novel because it provides core technology to companies across industries and can be sold as a subscription service, co-founder and chief executive Rodrigo Liang said in an interview.

This allows companies to crunch data using artificial intelligence but without hiring as many data scientists.

The company's software and hardware systems are versatile in how customers use them, Mr Liang said. For example, they can help medical labs detect cancer cells in high-resolution images with much greater accuracy, or they can be used to translate complicated material into several languages, he said.

SambaNova's customers include the United States Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, according to its website.

One of SambaNova's competitors is Nvidia, according to Gartner analyst Chirag Dekate. This week, Nvidia unveiled its first server microprocessor aimed at handling the most complicated computing work.

Mr Deep Nishar, senior managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, said he met Mr Liang about three years ago when SambaNova was a promising company, but too early for a growth-stage investor such as SoftBank.

"Now, the company is having commercial traction and was ready to go," said Mr Nishar, who is joining SambaNova's board.

As at Dec 31, SoftBank Vision Fund 2 has made 26 investments.