Toyota launches $100M VC fund to back AI startups

By : |July 12, 2017 0

Toyota joins the long list of companies forming AI-focused venture capital funds that include names like Baidu and Google’s Gradient Ventures. The automotive giant has launched Toyota AI Ventures with initial funding of $100 million from the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), an AI-, robotics- and autonomous car-focused initiative created in 2015. TRI will also be providing mentoring and engineering support to these startups at its headquarters, California.

Jim Adler, earlier serving as a Vice President of Toyota Research Institute will be Managing Director of the fund. “One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face is knowing if they’re building the right product for the right market. We can help them navigate that uncertainty, and we’re committed to doing so in a founder-friendly way because their success is our success,” Adler said in a statement.

Unlike conventional VC’s that rely on unsolicited pitches from startups, Toyota AI Ventures is using “a call and response model,” by identifying issues it’s particularly interested in solving and backing companies deemed to have viable solutions. The goal is to accelerate the pace of getting new technologies in the market.

                                 

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So far the fund has invested in three startups. Silicon Valley-based Nauto which designs systems for companies developing driverless car technologies in order to prevent car accidents. SLAMcore, a UK company that develops algorithms for smart technology, like drones and self-driving vehicles, allowing them to create a map of their surroundings and position themselves within it. And the third company is Intuition Robotics that creates a robot companion for older adults.

Toyota has structured its fund as a separate company rather than an on-balance sheet entity to minimize the conflict of interest. The firm expects to follow on and lead both seed and Series A deals.

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