Baichuan AI (百川智能) has announced the completion of a US$300 million Series A1 round of financing, roping in tech giants Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi and multiple venture funds as investors.
The latest fundraiser came about six months after the US$50 million fundraiser at the time when the Beijing-based Chinese ChatGPT wannabe was founded in April 2023.
Media reported that Baichuan AI bagged the funds at a post-money valuation of over US$1 billion, effectively making it a unicorn already.
The birth of Baichuan AI coincided with the appearance of a host of other domestic AI startups with a focus on developing China’s answer to the large language model (LLM) underpinning OpenAI’s ChatGPT.
Founded by Wang Xiaochuan, ex-CEO of search service provider Sogou, Baichuan AI has been progressing rapidly in the development of its variants of ChatGPT.
It has since released four open-source, free commercial LLMs, namely, Baichuan-7B/13B and Baichuan2-7B/13B.
Their debut was followed by another two closed-source LLMs Baichuan-53B and Baichuan2-53B.
On average, it took the company 28 days to publish a new LLM.
The sheer speed of rollout has put Baichuan AI in an advantageous position in China’s open-source developer community.
According to the firm, its two open-source models, Baichuan-7B/13B, have been among the top-placed in several authoritative rankings, without elaborating.
To date, the two LLMs have recorded more than 6 million downloads.
Baichuan attributed its pace of R&D to the company’s core members, who used to be AI engineers and programmers with Sogou, Google, Tencent, Baidu, Huawei, Microsoft and ByteDance.
Half a year after ChatGPT ignited a race within China to produce an indigenous version of ChatGPT, the local industry landscape is now divided among internet behemoths, startups and academic institutions.
Image credit: Unsplash
As time goes on, the initial urge to jump on the LLM bandwagon has given way to more realistic concerns about finding one’s own product market fit, meaning the products and solutions catering to market demand.
On the front of monetization, Baichuan AI has chosen to take a two-pronged strategy, with moves to target both the consumer and corporate markets.
To build a super-app
To meet the needs of individual users, it integrated features like reinforced search services into the Baichuan 53B model it had introduced in August.
The add-ons enabled the chatbot to improve the answers for its users.
This aggressive approach aligns with Baichuan AI’s vision to build a super-app from the get-go.
In late August, the company became one of the first batch of generative AI firms to be allowed by Cyberspace Administration of China to offer their services to the public under a set of regulations.
The official go-ahead was key to Baichuan AI’s endeavor to tap into the consumer market for LLM-powered chatbot tools.
On September 25, the startup announced that it will open up the application programming interface of its Baichuan2-53B model, as part of its plan to branch out into the corporate-oriented market.