Mobile phone giant Xiaomi Corp (小米) is among investors considering joining a funding round of at least 1.5 billion yuan (US$231 million) for Black Sesame Technologies Inc (上海黑芝麻智能科技), people familiar with the matter said.
The fundraising would value the Shanghai-headquartered artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous driving chipmaker at as much as US$1.5 billion, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter is private.
Black Sesame’s backers in its previous funding round included Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊), one of the people said.
Black Sesame is considering an initial public offering (IPO) on China’s technology-focused Shanghai Star board (上海證券交易科創板) as soon as next year, the people said.
At least one more round of investment is planned before any potential IPO, they said.
Xiaomi has invested billions in scores of start-ups to build out its smartphone and online ecosystem, but a deal with Black Sesame would mark the company’s latest bet on the automotive arena since announcing a US$10 billion plan to build electric vehicles.
The start-up, which designs AI chips and systems for vehicles, counts major auto industry firms, including Robert Bosch GmbH, SAIC Motor Corp (上汽集團) and BYD Co (比亞迪) among its clients, information on its Web site said.
Details of the fundraising, such as size and valuation, could change, the people said, while discussions of the IPO are at an early stage and the company could decide not to pursue a listing.
The investment talks come as Xiaomi plans to invest US$10 billion over the next decade into manufacturing electric vehicles, its billionaire cofounder Lei Jun (雷軍) announced last month.
The Chinese smartphone maker joins tech giants from Apple Inc to Huawei Technologies Co (華為) in targeting the vehicle industry, betting future vehicles would grow increasingly autonomous and connected.
Xiaomi plans to outsource auto assembly to contract manufacturers, a model it uses for its smartphones, a person familiar with the matter has said.
Founded in 2016, Black Sesame is an AI company focused on image processing, perception algorithms and system-on-a-chip design, its Web site said.
It has about 300 employees, 80 percent of whom work in research and development, the site showed.
The start-up is one of a growing number of Chinese chipmakers and tech giants seeking capital to develop semiconductors used to train AI algorithms.
AI chip companies in China, such as Beijing Horizon Robotics Technology Co (北京地平線機器人技術研發) and Enflame Technology (燧原科技), raised US$1.2 billion in the first quarter alone, BNEF estimates.
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