Report: Chinese AI startup MiniMax raises $600M at $2.5B valuation led by Alibaba


Chinese artificial intelligence startup MiniMax is raising at least $600 million in new funds with e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. as a lead investor, according to a report from Bloomberg on Monday.

According to sources familiar with the matter the new funds will bring the company’s valuation to more than $2.5 billion. Although the fundraise is still underway, Alibaba and HongShan, formerly Sequoia China, have already committed funds.

This marks the second major recent investment in an AI company from Alibaba, which led a staggering $1 billion round for Moonshot AI. The company develops AI large language models similar to OpenAI’s ChatGPT and is behind the Chinese Kimi AI chatbot, built atop its own 100 billion-parameter model Moonshot LLM.

Founded in 2021, MiniMax was founded by former employees of SenseTime Group Inc., one of China’s largest AI firms, including Yan Junjie, a former vice president at the company. The company focuses on social AI experiences and the development of AI companions and virtual characters that users can create and interact with, such as video game and cartoon characters with their own interactive personalities.

The startup currently offers two AI character role-playing apps — Talkie for international markets and Xing Ye for within China.

Using Talkie, users get to choose which character, or thing, they want to talk to and it is operated by the underlying AI model. There is a vast variety of characters available from fantasy, science fiction, and anime such as Naruto (or dogs and cats for animal lovers) who can answer questions and chat. One of the characters is also a block of cheese. For many characters, the app will even provide an AI-generated voice.

The Chinese market for AI has been heating up since China has been pushing to catch up with the United States in the AI market, especially with companies such as OpenAI, Anthropic, Cohere and others rapidly developing powerful LLMs. Part of what has made it challenging for Chinese companies to push ahead is the difficulty getting advanced chips required to train AI and deploy AI runtime because they’re restricted from exporting to China from the U.S.

Alibaba’s investment strategy has continued to become more aggressive toward domestic AI companies producing large language models, with this being the second largest investment in such a company. That has greatly accelerated its attention in AI that started before the beginning of the year, when the company invested in multiple Chinese AI companies including Baichuan Intelligent Technology, Zhipu AI and 01.AI.

Image: Talkie

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