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In a sign that the coffers of AI startups need little replenishing, Richard Socher, former chief scientist at Salesforce and the CEO of You.com, today announced the launch of a $50 million “AI-focused” venture fund called AIX Ventures. Speaking to VentureBeat via email, Shaun Johnson, a cofounder of AIX alongside Pieter Abbeel, Anthony Goldbloom, and Chris Manning, said that the goal is to make AIX a “household name” for AI-focused venture capital.
“There is an opportunity to launch a new venture firm with some of the world’s foremost thought leaders, people who have made fundamental contributions to the state-of-the-art,” Johnson said. “These thought leaders are now behind AIX with the mission to fund generations of AI-focused entrepreneurs.”
Socher’s fund comes four years after the ramp-up of Google Brain founder Andrew Ng’s own AI tranche — a $175 million fund focused on building new companies — and weeks after ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt pledged to invest $125 million into AI research projects through his philanthropic venture. Certainly, there’s no shortage of capital in the AI segment, with a recent report out of Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered AI (HAI) showing that private investment in AI last year more than doubled from 2020 to around $93.5 billion.
But Socher and his cofounders believe that they bring differentiating — and deep — experience to the table. Goldbloom is the CEO of Google-backed Kaggle, one of the world’s largest data science communities. Abbeel, a robotics professor at UC Berkeley, previously was a researcher at OpenAI before cofounding assignment grading platform Gradescope (acquired by Turnitin in 2018) and industrial robotics company Covariant. Chris Manning directs the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. And Johnson most recently headed up product development at natural language processing (NLP) startup Lilt.
AIX’s first tranche — Fund I — closed in October 2021 and included Socher’s angel portfolio. AIX Fund I already has around 40 portfolio companies, Johnson claims, including NLP startup Hugging Face, as well as Athelas, Weights & Biases and Time by Ping. Fund II is already in the works.
“We believe [that], to be a top AI practitioner, you have to be practicing at the top of the field … Socher, Goldbloom, Abbeel, and Manning have individually proven they can build impressive portfolios. Joining together as a venture firm, and moving on from their angel days, takes their potential for impact to the next level,” Shaun said. “The AIX investing partners will continue their current roles and will be supported by the full-time AIX team [and] I.”
As for which startups AIX plans to pursue, Johnson says that the fund will focus on companies in the seed and pre-seed phases and “verticals across the AI spectrum,” including in NLP, computer vision, and robotics. With an eye toward AI applications in manufacturing, warehousing, health care, software-as-a-service, MLops, data, and consumer, AIX will provide capital as well as business and technical guidance, help with hiring and strategy, and follow-on fundraising.
“[W]e see the magnitude of the impact AI is going to have on humanity. At the same time, the tech is just getting started,” Johnson said. “We have decades of significant progress ahead of us.”
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