ProBeat: AI startups raised fewer funding rounds in 2019

2019 is over, and while we’re already looking forward to AI in 2020, there’s still plenty to say about the past year. While funding news isn’t as critical to our coverage here at VentureBeat as it once was, we do still follow the money for transformative tech. Nowadays, that includes AI. In 2019, AI startups raised more money than in 2018, and in fewer rounds, according to data from Crunchbase. According to Pitchbook, though, both deal size and the number of deals decreased from 2018 to 2019.

AI — artificial intelligence — means different things to different people. It’s therefore important to define it when you’re going to be making comparisons over time. The AI category that Crunchbase tracks includes startups tagged as intelligent systems, machine learning, natural language processing, and predictive analytics. Pitchbook’s AI and ML vertical includes speech recognition, computer vision, robotic control, and “accelerating processes in the empirical sciences where large data sets are essential.”

The data

Here’s a breakdown of the past five years per Crunchbase’s AI category:

  • 2015: $6.2 billion raised over 1,600 rounds
  • 2016: $7.5 billion raised over 2,200 rounds
  • 2017: $14.3 billion raised over 2,900 rounds
  • 2018: $21.5 billion raised over 3,200 rounds
  • 2019: $24.7 billion raised over 2,500 rounds

Startups tagged within Crunchbase’s AI category raised 15% more money in 2019 compared to 2018, and in 28% fewer rounds. Zooming out a bit, it appears that money is increasingly flowing into AI startups, but investors are being more selective.

Here’s a breakdown of the past five years per Pitchbook’s AI vertical:

  • 2015: $9.6 billion deal value across 1,227 deals
  • 2016: $18.4 billion deal value across 1,620 deals
  • 2017: $21.5 billion deal value across 2,365 deals
  • 2018: $41.9 billion deal value across 2,938 deals
  • 2019: $31.8 billion deal value across 2,899 deals

Pitchbook notably saw a dip in 2019 not just in number of VC deals (down just 1.3%) but total deal value as well (down 24%). These are just two data points, of course, but they do jibe with what we’ve seen here at VentureBeat over the past year.

While there is still a lot of noise being made around AI startups, enterprises and older companies are investing heavily as well. That includes hiring, research, and big acquisitions. It’s possible that there were fewer rounds in 2019 because AI, as a broad encompassing term, is increasingly “mainstream” and not only for startups.

Nobody can tell you how 2020 will look. 2019 could be a peak or just a blip — there are simply too many factors at play. Everything from a potential recession to questions about where AI is heading will affect 2020. Either way, you can bet VentureBeat will be here covering it all.

ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.

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