OpenAI’s Bets on Tech Startups Hint At the Future of Artificial Intelligence

Since November, OpenAI has backed about a dozen startups that make productivity tools, programmer assistance applications and A.I. hardware.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images

OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, has started a race among tech companies large and small to push for new artificial intelligence products. The competition includes OpenAI itself, which started out as a research nonprofit but was most recently valued at $29 billion—a number buoyed by investors’ hopes it will keep delivering successful products like ChatGPT.

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In November, OpenAI launched a $100 million Startup Fund and an accelerator program called Converge to incubate promising founders and companies developing new A.I. products. The Startup Fund, backed by investors including Microsoft, aims to make big bets in a small number of early-stage companies in fields where A.I. “can have a transformative effect,” according to OpenAI’s website.

In the past few months, OpenAI has backed about a dozen companies through the Startup Fund and the Converge program, according to OpenAI’s disclosure and data compiled by CB Insights, a private market research firm. The company clearly aims to have a say in the future of A.I. technologies, but its path toward that goal is not obvious.

“It’s not surprising that OpenAI created a startup fund to spark interest and new use-cases of AI,” said Kyunghyun Cho, a data science professor at New York University and a former research scientist at Facebook AI Research. “The question is whether OpenAI will be the one to create new applications directly to consumers, or are they going to sell the access to its code to other companies with which they will create new products?”

OpenAI is betting on everything from chip makers to legal-assistance A.I.

A few themes emerge from OpenAI’s picks. The company is investing in startups that focus on productivity, A.I. infrastructure and more generative A.I.—a term popularized by ChatGPT that describes applications that can generate text, images and other content based on simple prompts.

For example, OpenAI led a series C investment in Descript, a company that makes an algorithm-powered video editing tool that's as easy to use as a simple text editor. It also backed Harvey, an automated legal-assistance platform powered by A.I. language models, and Speak, an A.I. language tutor.

OpenAI also invested in a few startups not aimed at consumers, such as Atomic Semi, a chip manufacturer;, a chatbot for software developers; and Anysphere and Cursor, makers of IDE (integrated development environment), an application that helps programmers develop software code efficiently.

These picks align closely with OpenAI's own research and product plans, CB Insights analysts observed in a report published Feb. 25. That include GPT-4, OpenAI's next generation language model, and a potential video generator touted by CEO Sam Altman recently.

In additional to capital infusion, companies backed by OpenAI's Startup Fund or Converge program will have access to OpenAI's models and programming as well as support from the company's research team, Altman said in a video promoting the fund in December.

"We want to push the boundaries of what powerful AI models can do and support really ambitious projects aimed to solve complex problems of highest order," Altman said in the video.

OpenAI’s Bets on Tech Startups Hint At the Future of Artificial Intelligence