Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It's broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. If you want it in your inbox every Saturday morning, sign up here. Let's talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors. This week, Scale AI raised a $325 million Series E. The company, as TechCrunch has written, works in the data labeling space. And it has been on a fundraising tear over the last few years.
OpenAI is launching a $100 million startup fund, which it calls the OpenAI Startup Fund, though which it and its partners will invest in early-stage AI companies tackling major problems (and productivity). Among those partners and investors in the fund is Microsoft, at whose Build conference OpenAI founder Sam Altman announced the news. In a prerecorded video, Altman explained that "this is not a typical corporate venture fund. We plan to make big early bets on a relatively small number of companies, probably not more than 10." It's not clear exactly how the $100M will be divided or disbursed, or on what timeline, or whether this is part of a longer program. But it seems to be a limited fund, not just the 2021 round. Altman did say that they will be looking for companies that are taking on serious issues, like healthcare, climate change, and education, where AI-powered applications or approaches could "benefit all of humanity," in keeping with OpenAI's mission statement.
If you can recall February, we dug into the question of AI startup gross margins. Venture shop a16z had published an interesting blog on the subject, arguing that it may be the case that AI-focused startups will enjoy strong gross margins, but perhaps not as strong as those posted by SaaS companies. Modern software startups (SaaS companies) have some of the highest gross margins in business, delivering their digital services over the Internet at little cost. Their high-margin revenue has made them incredibly valuable to private and public investors alike. To see a16z draw a line for AI gross margins a little under SaaS, then, was notable.
As recently as 2013, the [deep learning] space saw fewer than 10 deals. Computer Vision: Startups here are using deep learning for image recognition, analytics, and classification. Aerial image analytics startup Terraloupe was seed-funded this year by Germany-based Bayern Kapital. New York-based Calrifai -- backed by investors including Google Ventures, Lux Capital, and NVidia -- entered the R/GA accelerator this year, after raising 10M in Series A in Q2'15. Captricity, which extracts information from hand-written data, has raised 49M in equity funding so far from investors including Social Capital, Accomplice, White Mountains Insurance Group, and New York Life Insurance Company.
Recently public unicorn Upstart announced earnings that blew the socks off of Wall Street this week. After closing on Wednesday at around $61 per share, Upstart wrapped Thursday worth $115 per share. It turns out that all the blather we've had to endure about artificial intelligence (AI) in the past decade is coming true, at least in certain applications for select companies. But Upstart's blockbuster guidance for 2021 is just a sliver of the story. The AI-powered fintech is projecting a year so good that its valuation nearly doubled yesterday, but there are other shoots of life in the AI world worth discussing, and investors are taking note.