Baidu Ventures exists on the front-lines of the Chinese search giant‘s push to brand itself as an artificial intelligence company. In an effort to bridge the AI ecosystems of China and the United States, Baidu Ventures is partnering with Comet Labs, a San Francisco-based fund specializing in machine intelligence.
Unlike other venture capital firms looking to diversify into AI, Comet Labs lives exclusively in the space — providing capital, technical resources and mentorship to its startups. Wei Liu, now head of Baidu’s $700 million venture arm, was part of the founding team at Comet Labs before he was poached into the world of corporate venture.
“Baidu founded Baidu Ventures to build an ecosystem around AI technology and do investment to help AI startups with money, technology and connections to industrial players,” asserted Liu.
The mission overlaps considerably with that of Comet Labs. Where Baidu Ventures has the capital to invest in growth stage companies, Comet has the infrastructure to aggressively finance early-stage machine intelligence companies.
“We think the most useful things we can give to startups are things they can’t buy with money like mentorship, expertise and the ability to fast track into production,” says Saman Farid, Managing Partner at Comet Labs. “These are things that, even with $100 million, you might not be able to get overnight.”
Comet Labs has been organizing a series of “Labs” focused on specific industry verticals like transportation. The effort supports specialized startups with the help of corporate partners and targeted mentorship. Groups like Bosch Ventures and TomTom provide things like training data sets and technical expertise.
Unlike these partnerships that Comet Labs has been establishing for months, its relationship with Baidu Ventures will exist at a level that transcends the individual Labs. In some ways, Baidu Ventures is Comet’s partner in China — connecting portfolio companies with other strategic partners and a large market.
Outside of venture, Baidu has been as vocal as its peers about the role artificial intelligence will play in its future. Microsoft, Google and Amazon have all taken similar stances, engaging in acquisitions and investments through their own respective venture arms in AI, though none have been as exclusively focused on the space.