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January 23, 2018

Who’s Acquiring the AI Startups? (You Can Probably Guess)

(Zhitkov Boris/Shutterstock)

The hype that once propelled big data has shifted, and now AI is the hot new area to play. In 2017, venture capital firms responded by throwing $5 billion at hundreds AI startups, a 28% increase from 2016, according to the latest PwC/CB Insights MoneyTree Report.

But then what happens? Well, if history is any guide (and history tells us it sometimes is), we know that some AI startups will go on to do great things and shake up entire industries, generating huge benefits for customers and amazing profits for their founders.

If Accenture’s prediction that AI could double annual economic growth rates by 2035 “by changing the nature of work and creating a new relationship between man and machine” turns out to be true, then surely some smart AI startups will be part of that equation.

But these AI winners will be the exceptions. Conventional wisdom holds that 75% to 90% of startups fail. That means a large number of AI startups will fizzle out, most likely due to shaky business plans, unbaked technology, and unsustainable burn rates. These “crash and burn” startups will likely occupy the bulk of the AI startup-destination curve.

But there’s a third option available to these AI startups: getting acquired. We know that some of the most promising startups swimming in the AI pond will get gobbled up by bigger fish determined not to let the latest technological revolution pass them by.

And considering how hard it is to find good data science and AI talent, this is likely to be one of the more popular exit options for the founders of AI startups. After all, while these technological visionaries must temper their visions of glory and riches, they still get to go back to work for a big company and earn a high-six-figure salary, so it’s not all bad.

So who’s been acquiring these AI startups? The most popular names probably won’t surprise you. According to data tabulated by RS Components, Google leads the way with a total of $3.7 billion invested in 29 AI companies over the years. Amazon has spent about $821 million buying eight AI companies, while Intel has spent $776 million buying five AI componies.

RS Components put together this handy infographic to show who’s buying the AI startups and how much they’re spending (see below).  To visit the interactive version of the graphic, please go to

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