In a funding move that underlines the growing importance of collaborative approaches in the AI development landscape, New York-based startup Hugging Face has secured a Series D investment of $235 million, skyrocketing its valuation to a staggering $4.5 billion. The company's latest funding round witnessed an impressive roster of backers from the tech industry, including Google, Amazon, NVIDIA, Salesforce, Intel, AMD, IBM, and Qualcomm, reflecting the pervasive enthusiasm for AI technology and platforms that enable its creation and deployment.
Founded in 2016 by French entrepreneur Clément Delangue alongside Julien Chaumond and Thomas Wolf, Hugging Face has successfully pivoted from its origins as a chatbot app targeted at teenagers to becoming a hub for AI development. The startup provides an open-source platform where developers can share code, data sets, and models, much in the same collaborative spirit as GitHub does for general programming. With features like AutoTrain, Inference API, and Infinity, the platform automates tasks such as training AI models and speeding up data processing in production models.
The Series D funding comes as AI continues to dominate investment conversations, with giants like Google and Meta (formerly Facebook) having recently launched their large language models PaLM and Llama 2 respectively. However, what sets Hugging Face apart from its highly valued peers like OpenAI or Cohere is its commitment to open-source contributions and collaborations. While other companies tightly guard their AI technology as trade secrets, Hugging Face encourages a more democratic approach, giving developers tools to test, improve, and deploy machine learning models.
"Our belief is that most companies working with AI will want to develop their own models and technology and will need tools to do so," Delangue noted. And it seems the strategy is paying off: Hugging Face hosts an eye-popping 500,000 different AI models and 250,000 data sets. With a current clientele of 10,000 paying customers, the startup plans to focus on hiring talent and doubling down on its supportive efforts in research, enterprise, and startups.
The company is also no stranger to collaborative projects with other major industry players. Notable examples include a partnership with NVIDIA to expand access to cloud compute, a collaboration with Amazon to utilize custom Trainium chips for the next generation of its multilingual model Bloom, and an alliance with Microsoft to host scalable AI models through Azure.
Delangue appears bullish on the future, stating that "AI is the new way of building all software" and envisioning a future with perhaps "100 million AI builders" who could be using Hugging Face’s platform. The staggering valuation and the A-list circle of investors make it clear that the tech industry shares his optimism. As the lines between software development and AI continue to blur, Hugging Face’s Series D funding round stands as a significant milestone not just for the company, but for the future of collaborative AI development as a whole.