Emloyees and visitors take selfie photographs in front of Alibaba Group Holding. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Alibaba Joins $600 Million Round for AI Startup Megvii

(Bloomberg) -- Megvii Inc., the Chinese developer of facial recognition system Face++, is said to be raising at least $600 million from investors including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Boyu Capital, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Beijing-based company, which already counts billionaire Jack Ma’s Ant Financial and one of China’s largest state-backed venture funds as investors, will close this round of funding within weeks, the people said, asking not to be named because the matter is private. The company will then seek a second tranche of funding, the people said.

Alibaba is ramping up its investment in China’s largest artificial intelligence startups, hoping to employ the technology across its growing internet and retail empire. Megvii provides face-scanning systems to companies including Lenovo Group Ltd. and Ant Financial, the payments company that underpins Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms. It’s competing with SenseTime, another startup backed by Alibaba, for market share in sectors such as retail, finance and smartphone and public security that could utilize facial recognition.

Alibaba and Megvii declined to comment. A Boyu representative who answered calls to its main number said the firm had no comment and declined to forward calls.

Megvii will use a significant proportion of funding from this round to support retail initiatives, including applying its technology in unmanned stores, the people said. New backer Boyu Capital is a private equity firm co-founded by a grandson of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.

Beyond commerce, facial recognition technology has attracted interest from government authorities who want to be able to detect crimes and threats to social stability before they take place. Megvii’s software uses facial scans held in a Ministry of Public Security database drawn from legal identification files on about 1.3 billion Chinese. Its other investors include Foxconn Technology Group, CCB International Holdings Ltd., Qiming Venture Partners and Sinovation Ventures.

SenseTime is said to be in discussions to raise nearly $1 billion in funds from Softbank Group Corp.’s Vision Fund, people familiar with the deal said separately last week.

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