Toyota AI Ventures — the venture capital subsidiary of Toyota Research Institute, Japan automaker Toyota’s R&D arm — debuted in July 2017 with a $100 million fund focused on early-stage investments in AI, autonomous mobility, robotics, data, and the cloud. Since then, it’s supplied cash to startups like self-driving shuttle company May Mobility, maritime autonomous vessel software and systems provider Sea Machines, lidar developer Blackmore, and 15 others, some of which have gone on to raise substantial follow-on funding. Air taxi firm Joby Aviation, for instance, secured $100 million last February, and Palo Alto, California-based fleet monitoring company Nauto raised $159 million from Greylock Partners and Softbank’s Vision Fund.
Now, to cement its commitment to cross-industry AI and machine learning startups, Toyota AI Ventures is launching Fund II, a new $100 million fund targeting autonomous mobility and robotics markets. The announcement comes after chipmaker Qualcomm said it would invest $100 million in AI through Qualcomm Ventures, its corporate venture fund, and following the launch of Baidu’s AI and internet $500 million growth-stage fund Baidu Ventures.
“The growing interest in automated systems has created great opportunities to improve human lives using AI and next-generation mobility technology,” said chief executive officer at Toyota Research Institute and Toyota AI Ventures committee member Dr. Gill Pratt. “Toyota AI Ventures helps us find and invest in tomorrow’s technology leaders by bridging the gap between technology startups and the emerging mobility industry.”
Pratt says that in addition to capital, Fund II portfolio companies will gain access to ongoing support and resources from Toyota, including guidance from its corporate liaison team and an opportunity to connect with its global network of 350,000 employees, affiliates, and partners.
“Our startups are our customers, and we strive for deep connections based on a shared vision, common values, and aligned incentives,” added Toyota AI Ventures managing director Jim Adler. “It’s about building relationships that last. Today’s announcement is a demonstration of our long-term commitment to supporting the best entrepreneurs who are creating the next generation of disruptive innovations and businesses.”
The launch of Toyota AI Ventures’ Fund II comes as the number of seed-stage AI and machine learning companies in the U.S. declines, corresponding with a rise in the proportion of early and late-stage rounds. A venture round analysis by Crunchbase found that dollar volume into seed-stage deals in 2017 dipped slightly from 2016, from approximately $515 million in 2016 to $415 million in 2017.
That’s not necessarily cause for panic, though. According to a recent report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers and CB Insights, U.S.-based AI companies raised a collective $9.33 billion in 2018. And despite a dip in deals activity (from 533 startups funded in 2017 to 466 in 2018), AI and machine learning funding jumped 72% year-over-year.