Intel Invests in AI Chips, Autonomy, and Chip Design

With a market cap of around $263 billion, Intel remains the world’s biggest chipmaker. That may be changing though, as they’re being challenged by the likes of NVIDIA which now has a market cap of around $220 billion. In order to remain competitive, Intel spent about $13.4 billion on research & development (R&D) in 2019. Check out this super interesting table of companies that the MBAs over at PwC think are the world’s most innovative (Intel is in fifth place):

The 2018 Global Innovation 1000 study – Credit: PwC

It’s hard to fathom the amount of research you can accomplish in a single year with $13 billion dollars compared to the typical $100 million round a startup might raise trying to bring some new product to market. It’s probably fair to say that Intel has tabs on what’s happening in the startup ecosystem. When they choose to invest in a startup, there must be a very good reason for it.

A few weeks ago, Intel Capital, Intel Corporation’s global investment arm, announced 11 new investments totaling $132 million in various disruptive technologies. If you’re a startup that Intel has decided to invest in, you must be doing something very cool. For that reason, we decided to take a closer look at each of these eleven startups – two from Israel, three from China, and six from ‘Murica.

Identifying Anomalies Using AI

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Founded in 2014, Israeli startup Anodot has raised $62.5 million in funding from corporate investors that include Samsung, SoftBank, and of course Intel. Through the power of machine learning, Anodot is able to understand how your business operates to detect anomalies and make forecasting more accurate. An article by Datanami talks about how some of their intellectual property surrounds algorithms that are “designed specifically to quickly identify the source of anomalies in large data sets, then perform root-cause analysis.”

Introducing Heterogeneous Computing

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Founded in 2017, San Francisco based Astera Labs has taken in $6.4 million in funding to develop connectivity hardware and software for heterogeneous computing. Think of these as custom-built computing solutions that utilize various architectures to achieve the sort of high performance needed to optimize machine learning workloads. Astera Labs helps reduce the bottlenecks in these systems. Many of our readers don’t speak nerd, so we’ll leave it at that.

Update 09/27/2021: Astera Labs has raised $50 million in Series C funding to accelerate product development and customer momentum. This brings the company’s total funding to $56.4 million to date.

Cooking With Gas

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Founded in 2009, Chinese startup Spectrum Materials has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to become a high-purity specialty gas and material supplier for semiconductor fabs. Electronic specialty gases are considered the “blood” of the electronics industry and are a critical component of the semiconductor manufacturing process. The quality of the electronic gases directly determines the integrated circuit product performance and yield. Spectrum Materials has one of the world’s largest germane (GeH4) production bases.

Big Dental Data

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We previously wrote about 8 Dental Technology Startups Disrupting Dentistry, and our next company would have fit that bill. San Francisco startup Retrace has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to “solve the world’s hardest problems in oral healthcare with the intent of making precision dentistry available to all.” Your teeth are so unique that they’re sometimes used as a method of identification. A personalized medicine approach for dentistry makes a whole lot of sense. The company website talks about everything from cybersecurity to financial analytics, but doesn’t talk a lot about the “how.”.

Electronic Design Automation (EDA)

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We previously talked about the growth of electronic design automation (EDA), so it makes sense that Chinese startup ProPlus makes the list. They’ve taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to develop software that makes chip design faster and fabrication yields higher. They specialize in the areas of SPICE which stands for Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis and Design For Yield (DFY). There’s no way we’re going down those rabbit holes.

Big Memory Computing

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Founded in 2017, San Jose, California startup MemVerge has taken in $43.5 million in funding to pursue their aspiration – that every application should run in memory. (If you’re a true nerd, the thought of this should slightly arouse you.) The benefits are that everything runs quicker and you can recover things very quickly. We recently discussed how enterprise backups can be improved, and having everything in “big memory” means lightning-fast recovery of in-memory databases – 60x faster than current recovery technology. We have a million questions, so we may follow up here with a company profile on MemVerge.

Cleaning Up the Runway

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Founded in 2005, Israeli startup Xsight Systems has raised an undisclosed amount of funding to become a leading provider of advanced runway threat detection. Foreign object debris (FOD) costs the airline industry an estimated $12 billion a year. We’re talking about things like birds and wildlife and accumulated contaminants (snow, ice, etc.). Xsight’s solutions are deployed in airports from Beijing to Boston to Bangkok.

Found in Translation

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In a previous article, we talked about 7 Machine Language Translator Startups, one of which was Lilt. Founded in 2015, this San Francisco startup has taken in $37.5 million in funding of which $25 million came in the form of a Series B led by Intel. (Their Series A was led by Sequoia.) Lilt has built an enterprise language translation platform that builds AI-powered software and sells translation services to companies around the world. They claim to be the industry leader, which makes us wonder how good their product is.

If you ever want to test someone’s translation capabilities, try this:

  • Translate paragraph from English to Arabic
  • Take the Arabic output and translate to Chinese
  • Take the Chinese output and translate to English
  • Marvel at how absolutely effed up the results are

If Lilt can solve problems like that, mankind may have finally figured out how to translate languages properly.

A Closer Look at Digital Pathology

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Founded in 2011, Chinese startup KFBIO has taken in disclosed funding of $14 million in the form of a Series B that closed just months ago. The company uses “high-precision digital pathology scanners instead of traditional microscopes to realize digitization of traditional pathology information.” We hadn’t heard about “digital pathology” which involves taking specimens from the slides that are put under microscopes and then digitizing them. It’s just another cool thing that’s happening in the exciting world of medical imaging.

Autonomous Analytics

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Founded in 2018, San Francisco startup Hypersonix has taken in $15.1 million to develop “an AI-powered autonomous analytics platform designed for consumer industries such as retail, restaurants, hospitality and ecommerce.” The word “autonomous” refers to the ability of the system to be plugged in without the need for IT support or business analysts. Once it connects to all the systems you use, it will allow you to ask it questions using natural language and it tells you what you can do better. It’s being used by top brands like Amazon, Taco Bell, and Hilton.

One More to Go

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Founded in 2018, Sunnyvale, California startup Axonne has taken in an undisclosed amount of funding to develop next-generation high-speed Ethernet network connectivity solutions for automobiles. That was taken verbatim from the Intel press release because the Axonne website is nothing but a landing page right now. The press release goes on to talk about “the transition of in-vehicle legacy electrical/electronic architectures to scalable and adaptable service-based zones and beyond.” Try saying that five times fast.


Intel Capital plans to invest between $300 to $500 million in startups throughout this year. Here’s a company that has one of the top research & development capabilities on this planet, and they’ve decided to invest in these startups. It could be that these startups compliment something that they’re building in-house, maybe they’re trying to make a build-vs-buy decision, whatever the reason, it’s fascinating to see where Intel is placing their chips when it comes to disrupting the semiconductor industry.

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