Venture capital support for AI startups fell sharply in the second quarter of 2020 as the pandemic finally caught up with a sector that initially seemed immune to its economic impact.
According to a new report from CB Insights, AI-related startups raised $7.22 billion in 458 deals during the three months ending June 30. Both figures were down from the $8.4 billion invested in 516 deals during the first quarter of 2020.
The latest report notes that the 2020 funding numbers remain skewed, due to a $2.25 billion round raised by Waymo in Q1. The company extended that round to $3 billion, with an additional $750 million of funding that fell into CB Insights’ Q2 numbers. But it was the drop in the number of deals that raised concern. Those 458 deals in Q2 2020 represented the lowest number since the 387 venture deals for AI companies in Q2 2017.
The decline in deals appeared to be driven by fewer seed funding rounds. Instead, venture capitalists seem to be putting more money into mature AI companies. The report listed 15 “mega” funding rounds of $100 million or more in the quarter.
Heading into 2020, AI had become one of venture capital’s hottest sectors. AI startups raised a record $26.6 billion in 2019, spanning more than 2,200 deals worldwide, up from 1,900 deals totaling $22.1 billion in 2018. Before the impact of the coronavirus really hit, the industry seemed to be holding steady, with $8.4 billion raised across 506 deals in the first three months of 2020.
Still, the U.S. continued to maintain its edge in AI startup funding, with 39.5% of deals (181), compared to 15.5% (71) for Chinese AI startups. U.S. AI startups raised $4.224 billion compared to $1.350 billion in China.
As the pandemic spread across the globe this year, AI seemed well-positioned to make data more useful in areas such as health care research and tracing. Indeed, the report said AI companies working in health-related fields represented 84 deals in Q2, up from 82 in Q1. But other areas, such as AI for finance, saw a decrease in interest.
While the IPO market remains shut, the report tracked 47 acquisitions in the quarter, up from 29 in Q1.