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AI giant SenseTime leads $199M investment in Chinese video tech startup

SenseTime may be best known as the world’s highest-valued AI company — having raised $620 million at a valuation of over $4.5 billion — but it is also an investor, too. The Chinese firm this week led a 1.36 billion RMB ($199 million) Series D funding round for Moviebook, a Beijing-based startup that develops technology to support online video services.

Moviebook previously raised a 500 million RMB Series C in 2017, worth around $75 million. SB China Venture Capital (SBCVC) also took part in this new round alongside Qianhai Wutong, PAC Partners, Oriental Pearl, and Lang Sheng Investment.

With the investment, SenseTime said it also inked a partnership with Moviebook which will see the two companies collaborate on a range of AI technologies, including augmented reality, with a view to increasing the use of AI in the entertainment industry.

The object detection and tracking technology developed by SenseTime Group Ltd. is displayed on a screen at the Artificial Intelligence Exhibition & Conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, April 4, 2018. The AI Expo will run through April 6. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

In a statement in Chinese, SenseTime co-founder Xu Bing said the companies plan to use the vast amounts of video data from broadcasting, TV and internet streams to help unlock commercial opportunities in the future. He also stressed the potential to bring AI and new technologies to the entertainment industry.

This isn’t SenseTime’s first strategic investment, but it is likely to be its most significant to date. The company has previously backed startups that include 51VR, Helian Health and Suning Sports, the spinout from retail giant Suning.

SenseTime itself has raised over $1.6 billion from investors, which include Alibaba, Tiger Global, Qualcomm, IDG Capital, Temasek and Silver Lake Partners.

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Memory, a startup out of Norway and maker of time tracking app Timely, has raised $5 million in further funding. Leading the round is Concentric, and Investinor, with participation from existing investor SNÖ Ventures. The company had previously raised $1 million in 2016 from 500 Startups, and SNÖ. Founded by Mathias Mikkelsen, a designer by background and who I understand turned down a job offer at Facebook to try his hand at startup life, Memory is applying what it describes as AI and digital technology to create various tools to help solve “the abuses of time” that workers typically face in the modern workplace. The first of those abuses being tackled is the monotonous and time-consuming task of time tracking and filing time sheets — a meta problem if there ever was one. “The problem we’re trying to solve is with time tracking, the most common currency of work that exists,” Mikkelsen tells me. “The problem is that people find it extremely painful to do and thus do it incorrectly. For example, what did you do last Friday? How long did it take? Humans are not built to remember that kind of detail and we shouldn’t be doing it. Harvard Business Review estimates that U.S. companies loose billions of dollars per day because of incorrect time tracking, so we think the potential is massive”. The resulting product, dubbed Timely, is billed as a fully automatic time tracking tool. Powered by “AI”, it automatically records everything employees work on and then claims to create accurate time sheets on their behalf. “We solve it with tons of data and machine learning,” says Mikkelsen. “We have built an ML model (recurring neural net) that literally tracks, completely privately and securely, everything you do in life. Files you work on, locations, websites, calendar, email, etc. Then we analyse all of that, make sense of it and automatically create a timesheet for you. We round up the time, choose projects, tags, all of it. It matches your individual pattern and the only thing our customers have to do is to hit an Accept button and you’re done with your timesheet”. Mikkelsen says that Timely is currently used by more than 4,000 paying businesses across 160 countries, and that having created a complete “virtual memory” of time data, the Oslo startup is developing new tools to improve the “quality of time” and help businesses use time more effectively. As part of this effort, Memory will use the new funding to double its current 30-person team. It also plans on refining Timely’s AI model and to accelerate international growth.

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