As the founder of the Google Brain deep learning project and co-founder of Coursera, Andrew Ng was one of the most recognizable names in the machine learning community when he became Baidu’s chief scientist in 2014. He left there in early 2017 and quickly launched a number of new AI projects, including the Deeplearning.ai course and Landing.ai, a project that aims to bring AI to manufacturing companies. It turns out that what he was really working on, though, was his AI Fund (which isn’t really a fund in the traditional sense), which we first reported last summer.
This fund is now official. Ng has raised more than $175 million for the fund, but this isn’t going to be a traditional venture fund. Instead, Ng and his team will use the money to initiate new businesses and build new companies in a model that’s maybe more akin to the early Betaworks model. The investors in this new fund include NEA, Sequoia, Greylock Partners and the SoftBank Group. Ng is leading the fund as a general partner, with Eva Wang serving as partner and COO and Steven Syverud also joining as a partner.
“One of my philosophies of building companies is the importance of velocity,” Ng told me. In his view, AI businesses are also different from regular startups because you generally get a closed feedback loop that allows you to quickly see what works (and what doesn’t). “Depending on the vertical, I really value the ability to inject velocity into that positive feedback loop,” said Ng. He also believes that building AI businesses is a more repeatable process than building other startups. Indeed, he stressed that at Baidu, his job was essentially to build a series of teams for building potential AI-related businesses.
For the fund, this means that Ng plans to create teams that can then immediately start experimenting with new ideas. And because the team is already funded, there’s no need to worry and get distracted about raising funds.
As for raising his own fund, Ng told me he was able to raise the money pretty quickly. “There is so much capital globally that wants to go into AI, so frankly, our fundraising process was very painless,” he told me. “If you see this wave of value creation coming, there aren’t a lot of investment vehicles for them. If you look around the world, there are only some investors to really build AI businesses.”
Ng isn’t yet talking about what new businesses we should expect from his fund, but the first company to come out of the fund is, unsurprisingly, Landing.ai, and he told me there are currently two more projects in the works.
He also stressed that part of his staff is dedicated to thinking about the societal impact of AI, with a special focus on retraining the existing workforce to create “not just a wealthier but also fairer society.”