Alibaba adds fresh AI startup to its investing portfolio amid increasing bets in the sector · TechNode

Alibaba is reportedly joining as a lead investor in the latest funding round for Chinese AI startup MiniMax, the second major investment deal that the e-commerce giant has made in the emerging sector in 2024.

China Star Market, the local media outlet that first reported the news, noted that the financing has yet to be finalized, while a Tuesday report by Bloomberg said that Shanghai-based MiniMax is seeking at least $600 million.

Why it matters: Despite Alibaba’s cloud computing department’s focus on its own large language model, Tongyi Qianwen, the company remains actively engaged with external investments, casting a wide net as it looks to increase its bets on potential leaders in the country’s artificial intelligence sector.

Details: Minimax, founded by former vice president of SenseTime Yan Junjie in December 2021, has already launched services akin to ChatGPT. It also provides various LLM capabilities for Chinese word processing software WPS and the lifestyle-sharing platform Xiaohongshu.

  • The move comes after Alibaba led fundraising for Moonshot AI earlier this year, raising over $1 billion and making it the latest AI unicorn in China. In the record funding deal for Moonshot AI, Alibaba not only supported most of the funding but also contributed through computing power services. This move echoes Microsoft’s investment in OpenAI, where a significant portion was allocated through cloud computing services, according to CNBC.
  • Two of China’s leading artificial intelligence startups – Zhipu AI and Sogou founder-built Baichuan AI – also received funding from Alibaba in 2023.

Context: “Artificial intelligence” was mentioned three times in this year’s government work report, delivered by China’s Premier Li Qiang on Tuesday. Li highlighted ongoing innovations in the field since 2023, while also stressing the need to “deepen research and development applications of artificial intelligence” this year, signaling the Chinese leadership’s desire to accelerate the development of “new productivity”.

  • Representatives from the technology sector also discussed AI in their proposals for the so-called Two Sessions, the Chinese government’s annual plenary meetings. For instance, Lei Jun, Chairman and CEO of Xiaomi, suggested integrating AI literacy education into the nine-year compulsory education curriculum and introducing AI general education courses.

Cheyenne Dong

Cheyenne Dong is a tech reporter now based in Shanghai. She covers e-commerce and retail, AI, and blockchain. Connect with her via e-mail: cheyenne.dong[a]technode.com.
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