10 new AI unicorns flying high in 2022

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Technology venture capital deals may be slowing down, but investment in artificial intelligence (AI) companies continues to boom. Investments in AI research and applications are set to hit $500 billion by 2024, according to research firm IDC, while PwC predicts AI will contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030. 

So, it’s no surprise that among the 206 new 2022 “unicorns” – that is, privately held startups with a value of over $1 billion – a boatload are in artificial intelligence and machine learning. 

Here is a look at ten AI companies from the newest unicorn cohort that are soaring in 2022: 

Abnormal Security

Business: Uses behavioral AI to fight email attacks

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Based in: San Francisco, California

Founded: 2018

Became a unicorn: May 2022

Cloud-native email security platform Abnormal Security uses behavioral AI to analyze identity, content and context. It leverages more than 45,000 signals from cloud email platforms to stop all types of email attacks including business email compromise, supply chain fraud, ransomware, phishing, spam and graymail.

“Modern attacks, including business email compromise, supply chain compromise, account takeovers and more, are difficult to detect,” Abnormal Security’s CEO Evan Reiser told VentureBeat in May. “Because they typically contain no traditional indicators of compromise, they evade legacy email security solutions like the secure email gateway.” 

Abnormal Security uses AI to identify anomalous email messages, spot malicious actors and block them before they can cause any damage. It means organizations don’t need their employees to have the security awareness to detect phishing threats independently. 

As of May, Abnormal Security claims its customer base had grown by 270% and included companies such as Xerox, Hitachi Vantara and Urban Outfitters. 

Anthropic

Business: Protecting large-scale AI systems

Based in: San Francisco, California

Year founded: 2021

Became a unicorn: April 2022

Anthropic was founded by former OpenAI VP of research Dario Amodei, with the goal of making AI more explainable. It has raised a jaw-dropping  $704 million in just one year, from investors including Skype cofounder Jaan Talinn and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. It now has over 40 employees, with plans to expand further this year. 

Anthropic describes itself on its website as an “AI safety and research company that’s working to build reliable, interpretable, and steerable AI systems.” It will use the latest funding to “build large-scale experimental infrastructure to explore and improve the safety properties of computationally intensive AI models,” according to a press release. 

“With this fundraise, we’re going to explore the predictable scaling properties of machine learning systems, while closely examining the unpredictable ways in which capabilities and safety issues can emerge at scale,” said Anthropic cofounder and CEO Dario Amodei in the press release. “We’ve made strong initial progress on understanding and steering the behavior of AI systems, and are gradually assembling the pieces needed to make usable, integrated AI systems that benefit society.”

Cresta

Business: Conversational AI to mentor customer service agents

Based in: San Francisco, California

Founded in: 2017

Became a unicorn: March 2022

Cresta, an AI-powered platform that offers real-time support to help customer service agents respond to inquiries on calls or in chats, officially launched last year and has a roster of clients including Intuit, Adobe, and Dropbox. 

The San Francisco-based Cresta boasts investments from Zoom, Five9 and Genesys, another call-center giant, and proved that customer service is more than the “stinky armpit” of businesses, as Zayd Enam, CEO and cofounder of Cresta, said in March. 

“What elevates Cresta is its ability to provide beneficial, real-time analytics to customer service agents that help them determine the sentiment of the person they are interacting with, making them and their teams up to 50% to 100% more effective,” Zayd Enam, CEO and cofounder of Cresta, told VentureBeat. “The new funding will be used to create features that gather even deeper insights into what customers are saying during a call.” 

According to Aragon Research’s recent report, “what makes Cresta hot is its real-time agent assist features which include sentiment analysis alongside a comprehensive set of artificial intelligence features, including objection handling, intent, and knowledge base lookup.”

Hugging Face

Business: Open source and platform provider of machine learning technologies

Based in: Brooklyn, NY

Founded in: 2016

Became a unicorn: May 2022

Community-driven machine learning (ML) platform Hugging Face joined the 2022 unicorn club after it announced a fresh $100 Million in new funding in May to continue building what many, including CEO Clement Delangue, call the “GitHub of machine learning.” 

“I think that’s an accurate analogy,” he told VentureBeat. “With every new technology, there is a new category-defining platform building it. GitHub was for software, and it looks like we are becoming the platform for machine learning.” 

Founded in 2016, Hugging Face evolved from a developer of natural language processing (NLP) technology into an open-source library and community platform where popular NLP models such as BERT, GPT-2, T5 and DistilBERT are available. Now, it has gone beyond NLP to become an ML model hub and community. 

“We’ve seen the emergence of a new generation of machine learning architecture called transformers, which is based on transfer learning,” Delangue said. “Most of the users of this new generation of models are using them through our platform. It all started with text, but now it’s starting to make its way into all machine learning domains, which is a new development for machine learning tools.” 

Invoca

Business: AI-powered call tracking and conversational analytics

Based in: Santa Barbara, California

Founded in: 2007

Became a unicorn: June 2022

Another buzzy AI-powered, cloud-based conversation intelligence company targeting contact centers, Invoca is the newest 2022 AI unicorn – after announcing a fresh funding round of $83 million earlier this month.  

“When consumers look for value-added expertise in buying the right product or resolving an urgent service issue, they often escalate from digital self-service to speak with a human expert,” said Gregg Johnson, CEO of Invoca, in a press release. “At Invoca, we’re using data, automation, and AI to integrate these digital journeys with conversations in the contact center, helping brands deliver a delightful experience, drive revenue, and strengthen customer relationships.”

In March, the company revealed that it has recorded more than 70% revenue growth during the past 12 months. Invoca also completed its first acquisition (DialogTech, dollar-weighted customer retention) and was named one of the industry’s top 10 leaders in The Forrester Wave: Conversation Intelligence: Sales And Marketing, Q4 2021 report. In 2021, Invoca customers used the platform to analyze over 1.5 billion call minutes with consumers, the company said.

Mashgin

Business: Touchless self-checkout system

Based in: Palo Alto, California

Founded in: 2013

Became a unicorn: May 2022

In May, Mashgin, which offers a touchless self-checkout system powered by AI and computer vision, announced it had raised $62.5 million in series B funding at a $1.5 billion post-series B valuation, elevating the company to unicorn status.

The Mashgin Touchless Checkout System identifies items from virtually any angle and instantly rings them up in a single transaction. It doesn’t need barcodes or RFIDs, perfectly consistent packaging or particular orientations to work correctly.

“What sets Mashgin apart is the variety of items we can work with and the level of precision we’ve been able to achieve,” Mukul Dhankhar, CTO and co-founder of Mashgin, told VentureBeat. “Our system is 99.9% accurate and works with produce and plates of food as easily as packaged goods. We do this by incorporating three-dimensional data to better understand the size and shape of objects. We’re also the most market-ready product in retail computer vision.”

The company recently announced that convenience store retailer Circle K will install Mashgin’s technology in 7,000 of its stores over the next three years. “Having a solution that works reliably in the real world across thousands of location is an exponentially harder magnitude of challenge than having a pilot in a few stores,” said Dhankhar. “In that respect, we are years ahead of any other competitor in our sector. Our plan for the funding round is to grow our team so that we can continue to give great service to our customers as we expand across the US and Europe.”

Optibus

Business: AI-powered SaaS transit operations 

Based in: Tel Aviv, Israel

Founded in: 2014

Became a unicorn: May 2022

According to the Tel Aviv-based Optibus, which offers an AI-powered end-to-end software platform for public transportation planning and operations, the company is the first public transportation unicorn. 

Since its founding in 2014, Optibus has helped over a thousand cities tackle industry challenges by leading the digital transformation of the sector. With the launch of Ridership Insights, Optibus enables the visualization and analysis of ridership data directly on the map during the network planning phase, giving planners deeper insight into how the city moves. Planners can easily view their ridership KPIs on a route, segment, or stop level, with boarding and alighting data for each stop, or filter by time and date range. This crucial data enhances insight into how the network is performing, resulting in better routes that meet passengers’ needs.

Optibus was founded by Amos Haggiag and Eitan Yanovsky, who developed the company’s core technology in their spare time, working on weekends and evenings. Haggiag learned about some of the problems plaguing mass transit planning from his father, the CFO of one of the largest transit companies in Israel. 

“Many people don’t realize just how complex a mathematical problem public transit poses. It’s actually one of the most complex types of mathematical problems, what’s known in computational complexity theory as NP-hard,” Haggiag told VentureBeat in 2021. “That’s why powerful algorithms are not just nice to have, but essential to quickly figuring out how to run the most efficient transit networks.”

SparkCognition

Business: Machine learning software to analyze increasingly complex data stores

Based in: Austin, Texas

Founded in: 2013

Became a unicorn: January 2022

SparkCognition was founded in 2013 by Amir Husain, who previously launched Kurion, which created branded web portals for companies including Barnes and Noble, Dun & Bradstreet, and financial services institutions. The startup “delivers enterprise scale AI solutions that enable organizations to optimize processes, predict future outcomes, and prevent cyberattacks,” according to the company’s website. 

In the face of supply chain uncertainties, fluctuating demand for resources like oil and gas, and increased remote work, the pandemic “has heightened our customers’ understanding of the value AI can deliver,” Husain told Venturebeat in January. He added that the company takes an end-to-end approach, leveraging technology like artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, and knowledge representation. 

“We deliver these solutions in a user-friendly interface that quickly and clearly provides insights and alerts when a process or asset needs attention,” he said. 

Uniphore

Business: Conversational automation

Based in: Palo Alto, California

Founded in: 2008

Became a unicorn: February 2022

Uniphore was founded by Umesh Sachdev and Ravi Saraogi in 2008, “with a vision to unleash the power of speech and help bridge the digital divide, globally,” according to a company press release. 

In January 2021, the company acquired Emotion Research Lab, which uses advanced facial emotion recognition and eye-tracking technology to capture and analyze interactions over video in real-time. And last month, it introduced its Q for Sales solution, which “leverages computer vision, tonal analysis, automatic speech recognition and natural language processing to capture and make recommendations on the full emotional spectrum of sales conversations to boost close rates and performance of sales teams.” 

Gartner analyst Annette Zimmerman, who highlighted Uniphore in her competitive landscape report, wrote that combining computer vision and voice-based emotion analytics “could become a key differentiator for the company.” 

Some experts, including computer scientist and famously fired former Google employee, Timnit Gebru, have been critical of Uniphore’s claims on Twitter.  But in an emailed comment to VentureBeat, Patrick Ehlen, vice president of AI at Uniphore, said, “it’s important to call out that meeting recordings and conversational intelligence applications have become mainstream in today’s business world.” The company’s intent with Q for Sales, he continued, “is to make virtual meetings more engaging, balanced, interactive and valuable for all parties.” 

Viz AI

Business: AI-based platform for disease detection and healthcare coordination

Based in: San Francisco, California

Founded in: 2016

Became a unicorn: April 2022

Co-founded in 2016 by neurosurgeon Chris Mansi, MD, MBA, Viz AI offers a suite of solutions for diagnosing a variety of acute and emergent diseases via medical images. Last year, Forbes named the firm one of the “Next Billion-Dollar Startups,” and in 2020 leaders said they were the first to score Medicare coverage for an AI algorithm.

“Viz AI is committed to helping patients get better, faster and more equitable access to life-saving treatments,” said Chris Mansi, MD, Viz AI cofounder and CEO in an April press release. “We will continue to invest heavily in cutting-edge technology and services to integrate deeply into the clinical workflow, allowing us to automate disease detection, increase diagnostic rates and enhance workflows across the entire hub and spoke health system.” 

The company’s April funding announcement followed its launch of an AI-driven life science platform, which the company said, “revolutionizes the way medical device and pharmaceutical companies perform clinical trials and bring their treatments to market.” 

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