Israel’s AI21 Labs, a natural language processing (NLP) startup, said on Tuesday that it has secured another $53 million for its Series C funding round, which values the unicorn at $1.4 billion.
The additional financing was closed during a time when Israel is at war and takes the startup’s funds raised in the Series C round to a total of $208 million backed by additional new investors, including Intel Capital, the venture capital arm of Intel Corporation, and Comcast Ventures, the venture capital arm of Comcast Corporation.
The completion of the funding round comes three months after the creator of AI generative text models in August nabbed an initial $155 million with the participation of tech giants that include Alphabet’s Google and Nvidia. To date, the Tel Aviv-based startup has raised a total of $336 million from investors, it said.
“The expansion of the fundraising is a natural continuation from the interest we received from investors but couldn’t fit into the first closing of the financing round,” AI21 Labs co-founder Prof. Yoav Shoham told The Times of Israel. “The new investors have operations and activities in Israel and the war is not an impediment for them.”
NLP is the ability of a computer program to understand human language by speech and by text. With the recent hype over ChatGPT, a so-called large language model that uses deep learning to spit out human-like text, other startups such as AI21 Labs have been quick to come out with competing AI models.
AI21 Labs, which has a vision to bring generative AI to the masses, said that it will use the new funding to focus on providing “reliable and useful” AI technology to companies globally, expanding the company’s fields of activity, and hiring about 100 additional employees by the end of 2024. Currently, the startup has about 260 employees, mainly in Israel, Shoham said.
“A number of our employees have been drafted to reserve duty in the Israeli army,” said Shoham. “It is heartening to see how people in the company have been doubling down so we really didn’t have to change how we serve our customers.”
Israel has called up at least 350,000 reservists, many of whom are working in local tech companies. Israel declared war on Hamas after some 3,000 terrorists broke through the Gaza border on October 7 and killed, tortured and mutilated about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, including babies, children and the elderly. Many were murdered in their homes and some 240 were abducted and held by Hamas in Gaza since October 7.
Founded in 2017 by Prof. Amnon Shashua, who is also co-founder of Mobileye, Ori Goshen, and Shoham, AI21 Labs created a software platform where developers can build text-based applications like recommendation engines, chatbots and virtual assistants. The company launched a text simplification tool called Wordtune, a Google Chrome extension that helps clients improve or streamline content, and Wordtune Read, a tool that analyzes and summarizes documents.
Shoham said that AI21 Labs counts a number of Fortune 100 companies among its client pool. For example, AI21’s contextual answers model, specifically designed for grounded question answering, is used by customers such as Clarivate, an analytics company, and One Zero digital bank to answer user queries using information based entirely on the organization’s body of data.
In the very first days of the war with the Hamas terror group, the startup granted licenses for the usage of Wordtune to communication entities, including the IDF spokesperson and the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Shoham said.
In addition, AI21 Labs made its large language modeling technologies available to developers and companies who build applications that contribute to the civil and security effort during the war period.
“We are contributing our unique technology to help the war effort,” said Shoham. “Our nation has gone through many wars and military operations, and the business sector has proven its ability to rise from any crisis each and every time.”