The Global AI Race – Top AI Startups Around the World

In 2017, Vladimir Putin said that whoever leads in artificial intelligence will rule the world. His words are a testament to the enormous potential for AI to shape the future of humanity. In order to understand which country might be winning so we can start buttering them up, we decided to send our MBAs out on assignment to create a series of 57 articles that examine the state of AI startups across the globe. This article summarizes those 85,500 words so you can quickly understand where a good deal of the world’s population stand in the Global AI Race.

Which Are the Top 10 AI Startups in the World?

Back in 2018, we created a list of the top 10 AI startups in the world which hinted that the ultimate showdown will be between China and the US. And China is winning. That’s not because they’ve mastered procreation – one out of every five people on this planet is Chinese – it’s also because they also have more funding. Not only is the world’s biggest AI startup Chinese, but half of the world’s most funded startups also hail from the Middle Kingdom. It’s not just AI either. China is kicking America’s ass in tech across the board. On one side you have Mr. Musk, on the other side Jack Ma. It’s going to be fun to watch.

In looking at the composition of the top-10 global AI startups, 30% of the companies are working on computer vision, 30% are working on fintech, and 20% are working on autonomous vehicle development.

What Are the Best Countries for AI Startups?

When we talk about the best countries for AI startups, we’re talking about countries where AI research is the most advanced. There are ways to measure this. You can check number of AI papers published, number of AI patents filed, or look at general AI adoption by country. We read and summarized the AI Index 2018 report so you don’t have to. According to the authors, 28% of all AI papers were affiliated with European authors, followed by China (25%), and the U.S. (17%). The U.S. seems to be doing better quality research, while the Chinese are producing more papers than any other country. The overall volume of artificial intelligence research has increased dramatically over the past 17 years.

There are also some disagreements over who is ahead in regards to published patents. The AI Index 2018 report stated that in 2014, about a third of AI patents originated in the U.S, followed by South Korea and Japan, which each held 16% of AI patents. A different publication, Tsinghua University’s China AI Development Report, released summer 2018, shows that China has the greatest number of total published patents relating to AI, followed by the U.S. and Japan.

In terms of AI adoption, China leads the charge with twice as many Asian firms adopting AI as compared to North American firms.

Is China Leading the AI Revolution?

When we first looked at the top AI startups in China in April 2017, the U.S. still had a comfortable lead in terms of financing and ticket sizes. Chinese startups like Face++ (later renamed Megvii), Ubtech, and Sensetime are now among the world’s largest AI startups.

We revisited the state of artificial intelligence in China in January 2019 and found that China is leading the world in startup funding and company valuations. They’re also leading in the number of research papers issued, number of highly cited research papers, and also claim the world’s top research institution by AI talent.

China also has a strong government push to develop AI technologies with more than 1,000 AI policy documents. Compare this to other leading countries with just a few policies to refer to: the U.S. has nine, Germany has five, the U.K. four, and the whole European Union has five AI policies.

“When China sneezes, the world catches a cold,” as the old saying goes. As the world realizes that China has taken the lead, governments have responded by developing national AI strategies to compete in the global AI race. Let’s look at how some of the world’s countries are faring in that respect.

Top AI Startups in Asia ex China

Japan

The Land of the Rising Sun is a peculiar mix of tradition and modernity. It’s been fully isolated from the rest of the world until 1853 and has kept many of its unique – and endearing – traditions to this day. Drunk salarymen hurry past centuries-old shrines to catch the last train on a Friday night in the world’s biggest metropolis. Bus conductors bow towards the bus until it has left the station as do air marshallers as they see the planes off. Then there’s Babymetal.

Japan has long been a digital innovator and is considered the world leader in robotics today. It was the second nation after Canada to adopt a national AI strategy in March 2017, a strategy which focuses on AI applications for productivity, health, and mobility.

The top 10 AI startups of Japan all hail from Tokyo, but this where the similarity stops. Startups on the list work on totally different applications of AI that include Internet of Things, big data, autonomous vehicles, fintech, optical character recognition, and of course robotics. All of these aspects provide a broad variety of use cases in many industries, in line with the national AI strategy’s aim to build a whole AI ecosystem where artificial intelligence algorithms speak to each other by 2030.

Korea

While there are two countries called Korea, we quickly decided to cover South Korea after paying a visit to its low-tech northern cousin. Similar to Japan, South Korea, is home to many leading technology conglomerates like Samsung and LG.

Korea’s top 10 AI startups are active in all major verticals affected by artificial intelligence like healthcare, pharmaceuticals, fintech, chatbots, and education. Three startups represent B2C businesses and are active in translation, movie streaming, and gaming. Total funding for these leading startups has been slightly less than in Japan at $175 million.

The country has its own plan for AI dominance that focuses on establishing schools and training thousands of deep specialists who can get the job done. South Korea hopes that an investment in AI can counter China’s growing influence and help the Koreans become one of the top-four leading AI countries globally.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great place to do business – it has an income tax slightly higher than 10% and is ranked as the world’s second freest economy in the 2020 Index of Economic Freedom. It’s the safest place on the planet, with beautiful local people who are shy and endearing, who harbor a fondness for taking pictures of their food, who believe in ghosts, who despise “those uncouth mainlanders”, and who invent some strange cartoon characters – like McDull the pig and his friend Excreman that’s literally a turd that crawled out of the toilet.

Hong Kong’s leading AI startups are active in 8 sectors and have jointly received $88 million in funding – rather small compared to other developed markets but still a fair amount compared to its population. The two most funded AI companies in Hong Kong are Klook (a travel company) and Gshopper (a product recommendation engine).

Taiwan

Taiwan is a densely populated country with strong capabilities in AI, advanced manufacturing, and robotics. On the flipside, the country’s startup scene remains underdeveloped because of the lack of entrepreneurial initiative, the lack of talent, and a tough regulatory environment. The administration is looking to help the startup ecosystem by attracting foreign talent, introducing tax credits, and allocating land for startups. The government also developed a four-year action plan that includes:

  • Plans to train local AI talent
  • Establish an R&D institute similar to DARPA in the US
  • Establish an Innovation Hub that will foster 100 AI startups
  • Open up data flow and make regulations more flexible
  • Integrate artificial intelligence into the government’s larger industrial innovation initiative

Nine of the top 10 AI startups in Taiwan are headquartered in Taipei. Some of them are developing algorithms for very concrete use cases like online marketing, financial translation, and an indoor positioning system. Others opted for more general applications including computer vision, medical image processing, and a marketplace for AI algorithms. When we looked at the startup ecosystem in mid-2019 the total funding of the top 10 was around $115 million, slightly higher than in Hong Kong, a much smaller market in terms of population.

Singapore

Singapore is not only a high-tech manufacturing hub, but home to the 12th largest startup ecosystem globally. With a population of 5.6 million – less than the population of Hong Kong – the small island city-state has the seventh highest GDP per capita in the world.

The country released a five-year, $110 million national AI program in 2017 which involves involves six different organizations and aims to:

  • invest in the next wave of AI research
  • address social and economic challenges with the help of AI
  • broaden the use of AI across different industries

Singapore’s top 10 AI startups have received $491 million in funding surpassing much larger markets like Germany. Popular applications are big data (three out of 10) and marketing (three out of 10). Many of these well-funded startups are already active on the global market as well. Singapore’s positive business environment and detailed AI strategy seems to give this tiny state a successful headstart in the global AI race.

India

India – a land of uncounted cultural wonders, incredible natural beauty, and inadequate call centers soon to be displaced by the AI they’re currently helping to build. Besides its position as a leading outsourcing location, the country boasts a burgeoning startup culture supported by its many IT developers.

India published a national strategy for artificial intelligence in June 2018 that correctly recognizes the country is lagging behind China and the US in AI development. While budget allocations are still to follow, its top 10 AI startups have managed to gather $168 million in funding (as of July 2018) – a pittance compared to leading developed markets. On the bright side, funding for Indian AI startups is way above Russia, another emerging world power just entering the arena.

As the second most populous country in the world, India has a 1.3 billion local market to cater to. This is a clear competitive advantage also recognized by large global venture capital companies like Fidelity and Accel Partners who are beginning to look for investment opportunities in the region.

Indonesia

For a country made up of 17,508 islands, it is surprising that Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. It also boasts six of the world’s 465 unicorns (as of April 2020). The government is looking to release a national AI strategy by July 2020 but no real details are released yet to the public.

We spent a month in Indonesia last year meeting with some of their leading startups, and were blown away by a huge opportunity that’s flying under the radar of global investors. The talented and passionate people we spoke with are thriving in a tech ecosystem that’s isolated and relatively untapped. Still, there are some astounding success stories like GO-JEK

The top 11 AI startups of Indonesia only managed to scrape together a meager $20 million of disclosed funding. Four out of the 11 are developing conversational AI applications (chatbots) and two are developing big data solutions. The tech scene seems to be centered in Jakarta and we could barely find any emerging technology startups in the second largest city, Surabaya.

The Caucasus Region

We visited all three capital cities in the Caucasus region – Yerevan in Armenia, Baku in Azerbaijan, and Tbilisi in Georgia – in 2019 to uncover the leading emerging technology startups in the region. We found a budding tech startup ecosystem driven by a strong entrepreneurial spirit, much needed, since VC funding is lacking.

While not all of the 12 Caucasian startups we’ve found are developing artificial intelligence solutions, they are active in very diverse areas. Natural language processing for banking, blockchain for car sales, an alternative for antibiotics, image annotation for computer vision, and muting the background noise of calls are a handful of use cases these entrepreneurs are building successfully.

With initiatives like 500Georgia, the first international accelerator launched as a collaboration between Silicon Valley accelerator 500 Startups and the Georgian Innovation & Technology Agency (GITA), the future for tech startups in the region is looking brighter by the day.

Top AI Startups in Australia & New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand might be might be far from the rest of the world, but they don’t plan on letting the tech startup revolution pass them by. In 2018, the Australian government allocated $30 million over four years to promote and guide the development of AI. Their neighbor, New Zealand, launched an AI forum in 2017 to connect citizens, business, academia, and the government to advance the AI ecosystem.

The top 10 AI startups of Australia & New Zealand are led by two big data companies, both of which hail from Sydney along with three others on our list, making Sydney the leading city for AI in the region. New Zealand is represented with one startup. Collectively, these companies have taken in less than $60 million in funding – a drop in the bucket when you consider how common it is to see a $100 million round invested in a single startup.

Top AI Startups in Europe

UK

As the world’s the world’s fifth-largest economy, the UK is in a great position to compete for one of the top positions in the global AI race. In April 2018, the country put together a $1.3 billion package of corporate and VC investments to boost AI technologies at home.

The leading AI startups in the UK are developing applications in all the core themes covered by artificial intelligence: fintech, drug discovery, cybersecurity, computer vision, and healthcare. Half of the startups mentioned in our original article – Benevolent AI, Darktrace, Graphcore, Babylon Health, and Onfido – have appeared on the CB Insights AI100 list of the most promising startups globally at some point, and two of them are still listed in 2020.

Five of these startups became unicorns since we originally looked at them in May 2018. These are: OakNorth, Benevolent AI, Darktrace, Graphcore, and Babylon Health.

Ireland

Historically, the Irish have been quite successful in the tech space. Many corporates, startups, and academic institutions move to Ireland because their social and legislative framework is welcoming to businesses. Low taxes, a high-performing education system, and a well-established tech framework are all great pros to have Ireland as a European base of operations. The adoption of AI has been lagging though, maybe because Ireland still doesn’t have a national AI strategy in June 2020 (although this could be released any day now).

Instead, Ireland has a thriving private sector ecosystem, an AI Masters program, and a handful of successful AI startups with unique use cases like flash storage, 3D rendering, social media, and biotechnology. The top 10 startups received $134 million in funding altogether as of December 2018, on par with Taiwan. Not bad for a population of 5 million people.

France

Emmanuel Macron, France’s youngest president, is confidently betting on artificial intelligence. In April 2018, Mr. Macron has committed to investing $1.8 billion into AI over the course of four years. The package focuses on healthcare AI solutions, the area that AI could have the most impact on (and the area that seems almost absent from the previous countries we looked at so far).

He has a point. When we looked at the top 10 most funded AI startups in France in April 2018, healthcare didn’t make it to the top 10. Use cases like fraud detection, computer vision, predictive analytics, and marketing seem to be more attractive to private sector founders and investors alike. This is why we followed up that article with the top 10 healthcare AI startups in France shortly after.

The government’s investment package kills two birds with one stone. It aids healthcare reform in the country (always a cornerstone of political programs and a basic necessity for the population) and strengthens France’s AI ecosystem.

Germany

Ask any American to tell you three things about Germany and the first thing out of their mouth will be Oktoberfest, likely because they’ve “always wanted to go there”. Germany isn’t just about attractive buxom blondes serving beer though. That’s such a dated, narrow-minded stereotype. Germany doesn’t just have attractive blonds, they also have attractive brunettes.

Yes, zee Germans are quite proud of their country’s natural beauty, but it’s not only skin deep. Germany is the strongest economy in the European Union thanks to the population’s strong work ethic, financial prudence, and general conservatism. While Berlin’s youth throw multi-day raves in the Kit Kat Club, the rest of the country is going about their day-to-day in a calm and efficient manner, getting richer by the day.

As the UK and France started executing on billion-dollar packages to strengthen their AI capabilities, Germany also joined the fray with a six-year plan to spend $3.4 billion over the period 2019-2025. The plan’s key cornerstones are the development of human capital, research and development, network building, regulation, and infrastructure for AI.

We looked at the top 10 AI startups in Germany just before the country’s huge AI package was released and found many broad applications leading the funding table. Healthcare, process automation, personal finance, and industrial IoT are all well-established use cases for AI algorithms. As expected, Berlin is the leading city for AI startups, followed by Frankfurt and Munich, the centers for finance and industry. The government push coupled with the Berliners’ liberal use of psychedelics lively and growing startup ecosystem makes Germany a great contender for a leading position in the global AI race.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands, and its capital Amsterdam, are well known for their good techno music, legal weed, and a liberal attitude towards sex. The small country is also a European startup hub thanks to its great location, progressive tax system, and diverse English-speaking population. Encouraging, to say the least.

The country released its national AI strategy in October 2019 building on an AI roadmap delivered at the beginning of the year. However, even before that, the Dutch AI ecosystem was surprisingly diverse both in terms of location and applications.

Spain

Spain was hit hard by the 2008 financial crisis, and it took nearly a decade for the country to get back on its feet. While the population never lost its ‘carpe diem’ outlook on life, the economy only reached its pre-recession size in 2017. The reinvigorated economy combined with a great education system and available funding are helping the country’s startup ecosystem grow.

The Spanish government released an AI strategy in March 2019 to support private sector growth. We looked at the top 10 AI starups in Spain just before that, and found that most companies on the list went on to compete in global markets quite rapidly. Their success was partly born out of necessity – total funding amount for the top 10 was between Germany and Russia, and lower than what you’d expect form the world’s 15th largest economy. As we saw in the Caucasus, innovation and efficiency are counteracting a lack of funding. Lean companies learn how to accomplish more with less.

Portugal

Portugal, another casualty of the 2008 financial crisis has a similar trajectory in AI development as its neighbor Spain. The government published an AI strategy in early 2019 that ties into the wider pan-European strategy of the EU. Funding amounts are on the lower end, but the top 10 AI startups of Portugal are active in more unique fields than other countries. Besides the usual suspects of healthcare, marketing, and business intelligence, top AI startups of Portugal are also developing algorithms for fishing, agriculture, and predictive maintenance for the transportation industry. Brazil, a country with 20 times the population and speaking the same language, is a natural market for Portuguese AI startups.

Italy

Italy, the third Mediterranean country in our AI startup series, also boasts some interesting AI use cases. The country’s happy-go-lucky residents managed to allocate some time to AI innovation between devouring some vitello tonnato and engaging in pointless banter about Juventus. Besides the most popular use case in fintech, the top 10 AI startups in Italy also dabble in fashion, travel, and natural language processing for musical lyrics.

The private sector is once again supported by governmental policies that include an AI task force and policies around developing better public services with the use of AI. Funding amounts were relatively low when we last checked in January 2019, but at least AI is there to support the Italian way of life. Next stop? Algorithms for cooking the perfect spaghetti carbonara and business intelligence for the Cosa Nostra.

Switzerland

The ever-industrious Swiss have a lot going for them. They have a population of 8 million living on an area about a third of the size of Pennsylvania, and they still have the 16th highest GDP per capita in the world and one of the highest number of AI startups per capita. Their strong economy and research background makes Swiss startups attractive to international VCs.

Switzerland might not have a national strategy for AI, but the private sectors is doing quite well. Three out of 10 leading Swiss AI startups work on big data solutions and the rest are a mix between the usual suspects. Big data platforms might bore you to tears (as the Swiss tend to do), but these technologies for the backbone of any AI application. Seems like a national strategy is not a prerequisite for AI success.

Austria

You might think of Austria as a place where guys in lederhosen end the day with huge tankards of beer served by buxom blondes, and you might be right. But these same guys also voted for the development of a strategy to handle robots and AI in 2017, and the government listened. Austria now has a so-called Robot Council (robots wearing lederhosen???) responsible for the development of an AI strategy and tasked with identifying opportunities and challenges in the areas of robotics, autonomous systems, and AI.

The council has released a document called “Artificial Intelligence Mission Austria 2030” that outlines the first steps of an AI strategy. In the meantime, the private sector hasn’t been idle. The top 10 AI startups in Austria (as of June 2019) cover the usual AI use cases with most being headquartered in Vienna. Collectively, they managed to raise $55 million between themselves, not bad for a small country with a population of 9 million. Their proximity to Germany and a shared language provide potential exit opportunities in the form of larger German companies looking for some bolt-on exposure to AI.

Sweden

Sweden, the biggest country in Scandinavia, joined the global AI race in May 2018 with the release of its “National Approach for Artificial Intelligence” which outlines the training of AI professionals, an increase in AI R&D, and the development of a legal framework around AI. The plan’s ultimate aim is to increase the country’s competitiveness and to support its (already strong) welfare system.

The list of Sweden’s 12 leading AI startups contains a healthy mix of different industries. The only area missing is education, considering that the Nordic education model is one of the most efficient and progressive globally. In terms of funding, the top 12 startups gathered $97 million altogether, and most of it was allocated to the leading two companies developing solutions for contract discovery and software development.

Finland

The Nordic cousin to Sweden and the most sparsely populated country in the European Union also follows the Nordic model of capitalism. It is one of the few working examples of a progressive, socially sensitive state with superb welfare, education, and healthcare services. It’s also expensive AF, maybe the single most expensive country we’ve ever traveled in. With an AI program led by the former President of Nokia, Finland focuses on data utilization across all sectors, growing AI expertise, and building the world’s best public services.

Looks like the top-11 AI startups in Finland are in line with the country’s aspirations. Two are active in education, one in health insurance, and one in customer service. Others are developing more generic use cases like machine learning models, software testing automation, website development, and chatbots.

Denmark

Denmark might not be the leading charts of economic strength or technology supremacy, but it is commonly referred to as the happiest country in the world. Besides the benefits of having a socially sensitive Nordic welfare system, the Danes also have a philosophy called hygge in their daily lives – “a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment” according to Wikipedia. Maybe this is why their cities are clean and orderly, their work ethic is great, and they smile a lot.

This doesn’t hamper the nation’s technological ambitions though. In January 2018, the Danish Government launched the “Strategy for Denmark’s Digital Growth,” which includes a focus on AI among other digital technologies. The government also allocated $11 million for 2018, $19 million for the following years until 2025, and $11 million in perpetuity until the goals are met.

As of January 2019, the top 10 AI startups in Denmark were developing artificial intelligence solutions for different services like marketing, project management, publishing, customer service, and recruitment. The exception is the runner-up called 2021.ai, a company which offers an industry-agnostic AI platform for the implementation of machine learning and data science projects for organizations of any size.

Central and Eastern Europe

Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is a region that consists of relatively small countries, many of which gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. These countries had to overcome unique challenges when transforming into democratic states with free market economies only three decades ago. Most of them registered rapid GDP growth (albeit from a low base) that was slowed by the global financial crisis of 2008.

We’re going to exclude Poland and Estonia because of their unique markets and deal with these two countries separately. The remaining states in the region that have many things in common are: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Besides their rich and diverse cultural heritage that fuels a booming tourism industry, these countries are preferred outsourcing hubs because of the cheap and well-educated workforce and cheap office space.

The top 10 AI startups in Central and Easter Europe hail from five countries. Some of them offer unique solutions like Gjirafa, the “Albanian Google” and SignAll, a sign language translator from Hungary that employs computer vision and voice recognition to allow seamless communication between deaf people and ones with hearing. Others are developing autonomous vehicles with Level 5 autonomy, big data platforms, and machine vision for industrial automation.

Estonia

We looked at Estonia, another country in the CEE region, separately because of its notable progress in technology and digitization since independence. The first country to allow electronic voting in the world, Estonia is also the first to implement a so-called e-residency that allows applicants to establish themselves and their business in Estonia (and consequently in the EU) and conduct business from there globally.

In May 2018, ministries responsible for digital development in the Nordic-Baltic region jointly released a “Declaration on AI in the Nordic-Baltic region” with the goal of “developing and promoting the use of artificial intelligence to serve humans.” While these kinds of policies take some time to have an effect, we identified nine AI startups in Estonia worth a look.

The country was so interesting that we paid them a visit in 2020 to interview Veriff, a startup using AI for digital identity verification.

Poland

Poland is the largest country in the CEE region with a population of 38 million and the only country in Europe that registered positive growth in 2009 following the financial crisis. While the Poles lack an official AI strategy, the government is actively consulting the scientific community to foster the growth of AI in Poland.

The top 10 AI startups in Poland managed to raise $58 million in funding, on par with Denmark. Use cases include business intelligence, fraud prevention, industrial IoT, and air pollution measurement to name a few. To counter limited visibility, Polish startups are expanding internationally at an early stage, just like their counterparts in Spain and the broader CEE region.

Turkey

Once the center of culture and science and the core of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey used to be a true world leader. This is still evident to any tourist who experiences the richness of Istanbul. Modern Turkey is similar to the Central European countries in that it offers a well-educated and economical workforce for global corporates to prey on work with.

As one would expect, some of these well-educated citizens decide to leave corporate slavery and become entrepreneurs which contributes to a budding startup ecosystem. The Turkish government is still in the process of formulating their AI strategy, and in the meantime, the private sector is actively looking for niche use cases to apply AI algorithms to. The top 10 AI startups in Turkey are developing solutions for fashion (Turkey has a thriving textile manufacturing industry), gaming, retail store audits, IoT for energy, home energy management, and more. Available funding is sparse, but Turkish startups still manage to compete with Western counterparts by running lean and executing quickly and flawlessly.

Russia

Russia is a strange outlier in the global AI race. With a fearless leader at the helm and some of the most beautiful women on the planet, it is one of the world powers quietly shaping global policies. While Mr. Putin believes artificial intelligence will be the key to global supremacy, Russia’s contributions to the global AI race have been very low-key so far – at least in the private sector. A growing number of public-private partnerships and the involvement of the Russian Ministry of Defense in AI projects might provide an added boost. As will Russia’s national AI strategy released in October 2019. The strategy aims to

  • Improve the availability and quality of data
  • Increase the availability of hardware
  • Create appropriate standards and a regulatory system that guarantees public safety and stimulates the development of AI technologies

When we looked at the top 10 Russian AI startups in June 2018, we found that four out of the top 10 were active in computer vision and two were dedicated to robotics. Funding was less than $30 million collectively which is surprising considering Russia has a relatively well-developed venture capital ecosystem as well as a deep talent pool of IT developers. Maybe that’s why two out of the top 10 startups relocated outside of Russia at the earliest opportunity. It is important to note we covered the country prior to the launch of its national AI strategy, and we’ll likely be to back to drink vodka and ogle their women do more scouting for talented tech startups.

Top AI Startups in Africa

The flag for each of Africa’s 54 countries, every one different from the other

Africa is a forgotten continent for many of us – whatever happens there, it barely makes the news. She lives in our minds as the place of colorful dresses, drum music, and the Lion King, or for more informed people, a place of many underdeveloped nations living in poverty. The truth is, you can’t stereotype such a complex place. Africa is a continent of 1.2 billion people who live in 54 countries, half of which are dictatorships. Some of these places are rife with corruption, civil unrest, underdevelopment, and deep poverty.

Lots of room for growth also means lots of opportunities for artificial intelligence to aid in growth and development. According to Access Partnership and the University of Pretoria, African nations can greatly benefit from the use of AI in sectors like agriculture, healthcare, public services, and financial services.

In looking at the top 10 AI startups by funding, we found nine were founded very recently and that funding amounts were low across the board. The AI startup scene might be in its infancy, but the top 10 pioneers are working on a balanced mix of solutions across applications of fintech, agtech, big data, chatbots, and image recognition. There is no leading country either – Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Tunisia, and Egypt all made the list.

Top AI Startups in Latin America

Mexico

While some people might think Cinco de Mayo is about Mexican independence, it’s actually a holiday that celebrates the day three Americans fought and defeated El Guapo at the Battle of Santa Poco. Mexico has a rich cultural heritage with one of the best cuisines in the world, and many Americans are thankful for its not-so-legal export product. It’s just one of the many things Mexico is famous for. 

In respect to global economics, Mexico has a key role in the regional international trade of the Americas as the second largest exporter to the United States. It is also the second largest economy in Latin America and the 15th largest economy in the world. The media paints a less-than-favorable picture of the country, but it’s a much safer and more interesting place than people think.

It is a less known fact that Mexico is also becoming the startup hub of Latin America with the trio of Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara leading its development. It was among the first ten countries to create a national AI strategy and invests heavily in its startup ecosystem through the office of the Secretary of the Economy.

The top 10 artificial intelligence startups in Mexico have received more funding than their largest South American counterparts. At the moment, Mexico City seems to be the center of AI development. It is interesting to note that, similarly to Russia, two of the top 10 startups have moved their headquarters outside of the country right after their founding, to attract international capital and reach developed markets more easily. (It’s the same reason Mexico doesn’t have an Olympics team. Anyone who can run, jump, or swim, it already over the border.)

South America

The Flags of South America

While Mexico is becoming the startup hub of Latin America, other countries in South America are scrambling to catch up. Investments in the tech space have been growing consistently over the past years, but funding for AI startups throughout the continent remains below that of Mexico.

The top 10 AI startups in South America include startups from Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Applications are dominated by agtech, marketing, and customer service, three areas where AI can help serve the 422.5 million people who live in South America.

Top AI Startups in the Middle East

The United Arab Emirates (UAE)

The UAE is made up of seven city-states lead by Abu Dhabi, with the best known of them being Dubai. The country has consciously worked on diversifying its economy away from oil and towards services in the past decades, and has become a regional business hub in the process. While well-paid expats and rich local families fuel the bling economy of over-consumption, luxury yacht cruises, expensive sports cars, and high profile parties, the country’s leadership is looking to make this state of affairs sustainable.

The UAE’s startup ecosystem is still in its infancy, but is supported by a national AI strategy, an AI ministry, and the world’s third largest sovereign wealth fund. The top 10 AI startups of the UAE have received less funding than startups in similar business hubs like Hong Kong, but the AI strategy aims to change that by focusing on using artificial intelligence to enhance the performance and efficiency of the public sector and to attract investments into AI in multiple other sectors including transportation, healthcare, renewable energy, and education. 

Lebanon

Lebanon’s tumultuous political situation has left its mark on the country’s economy. The Lebanese have faced long periods of instability including wars with Israel, internal conflicts, and spillover from the Syrian war. More recently, escalating economic issues combined with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic have resulted in the collapse of the Lebanese pound.

Even with political imbalances and systemic issues with the economy, we managed to find 9 AI startups when we traveled to Beirut in early 2019. Most of these companies use big data to provide innovative services to local and global clientele including real-time risk intelligence for global supply chains, sentiment analysis for the Arab-speaking world, and news aggregation. Unsurprisingly, Lebanese startups prefer to relocate to larger and more stable cities as soon as they can in order to decrease geopolitical risk and access global markets.

Israel

Israel has the third largest number of publicly traded companies following Canada and the US. It also has a thriving startup ecosystem and access to well-established venture capital firms like Sequoia. This is why the top 10 Israeli AI startups managed to raise $362 million last time we checked back in Fall of 2017. This is more funding than what the leading German AI startups could achieve in a country with less than 9 million people.

Key AI applications include computer vision, fraud prevention, predictive analytics for sales and marketing, and semantic search. Since we covered these companies, one was acquired by security and encryption giant RSA and another closed a mega-round of $165 million in additional funding. Maybe it’s true that Ashkenazi Jews have a higher average intelligence out of a typical human population as a University of Utah study suggested – but nobody wants to talk about because it makes dumb people uncomfortable.

Top AI Startups in North America

Canada

Canada’s government was the first to launch a national AI strategy called the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy in its 2017 budget with an allocation of $125 million. The strategy aims to increase the number of skilled graduates and researchers in the field of AI, and establish cities like Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto as research hubs for AI.

We looked at Canada’s AI startup scene twice. In July 2017 we looked at nine AI startups, and then one year later, we created our usual list of top 10 AI startups by funding. The leading Canadian AI company is Element AI, a provider of AI-as-a-service. The most popular application is retail with four of the top 10 startups developing algorithms for the field. Total funding for the leading Canadian startups was above $300 million, a respectable number on par with Europe’s leading economies and Israel.

Your Country Name Goes Here

You may have noticed that we haven’t covered ‘Murica yet with a top-10 AI list. That’s because we’re all constantly hearing about what’s happening in the Silicon Valley Vatican, and we thought it was time to look elsewhere for talent. We spent two years traversing this planet, from the shores of Naura to the deserts of Saudi Arabia, our MBAs put boots on the ground to find the best startups around the globe. If you’re a country that wants some exposure for your tech sector, or a VC that wants to scout a particular geographic region, give us a shout and let’s see if we can work together.

Pure-play disruptive tech stocks are not only hard to find, but investing in them is risky business. That's why we created “The Nanalyze Disruptive Tech Portfolio Report,” which lists 20 disruptive tech stocks we love so much we’ve invested in them ourselves. Find out which tech stocks we love, like, and avoid in this special report, now available for all Nanalyze Premium annual subscribers.