BEIJING -- Moore Threads, a Chinese graphics processing unit developer, has raised several billion yuan (several hundred million dollars) in two funding rounds within only 100 days of its establishment, according to sources.
The investment in Moore Threads was jointly led by Shenzhen Capital Group, Sequoia Capital and GGC Capital.
Among the other investors in the GPU startup are China Merchants Venture, ByteDance, which operates the TikTok short video app, as well as self-driving car startup Pony.ai and Riverhead Capital.
Moore Threads was established only last October. It has built platforms for vision computing and artificial intelligence and is developing world-class advanced and innovative GPU-related intellectual properties on its own.
The company's GPU products are also compatible with general-purpose computing on graphics processing units and high-performance computing.
The company's core staff members formerly worked at NVIDIA, which has a strong competitive advantage in the general-purpose computing on graphics processing units (GPGPU) area, and other global players such as Microsoft, Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and Arm.
The startup's founder, who has experience of more than 15 years in the semiconductor industry and leads a staff of world-class chip engineers, has developed a Chinese GPU industry ecosystem.
Investment in GPUs has been booming in the Chinese chip industry since the second half of last year.
Biren Technology raised 1.1 billion yuan in a Series A funding round in June last year, with Qiming Venture Partners, IDG Capital and Walden International China serving as its lead investors.
Gree Venture Capital, a venture capital company under the umbrella of a major consumer electronics manufacturer, also invested.
In November last year, Metax raised about 100 million yuan in an Angel funding round, with CTC Capital acting as its lead investor. Metax was established in September that year.
The GPU investment boom is continuing this year.
Denglin Technology raised funds in a Series A+ funding round in February, with Yuanhe Puhua and Genesis Capital serving as its lead investors. The startup's existing shareholders, including Northern Light Venture Capital, also participated in the funding round.
New developments can be seen not only in investment but also in productization, or the commercialization of a product.
Denglin Technology has started distributing samples of its first GPU+, a GPU-based AI processor, to customers after the product's tape-out, which means the final stage of the design process, and demonstration test.
Iluvatar CoreX announced in January that it had started mass-production of its "BI" GPGPU in December last year after finishing a demonstration test the previous month following the product's tape-out. The product is manufactured using a 7-nanometer process.
Innosilicon, which handles mining equipment, announced in August last year that it would release two GPU products soon.
The boom in investment in the semiconductor chip sector is the first since the previous one between 2016 and 2017.
Amid the current boom, the GPGPU market, which is dominated by NVIDIA, has drawn attention and the image rendering as well as AI and cloud computing areas have come under the spotlight.
GPUs are difficult to design, so patents are highly effective.
Industry leader NVIDIA boosted its share of the Chinese market from 50% in 2008 to more than 80% in 2020. The company has also made its technology ecosystem, toolchain, marketing support and customer support perfect.
The process of a product planning, design, tape-out and manufacturing usually takes between 18 and 24 months. Most of the companies mentioned in this article are all fledgling. There are still only a few cases of them realizing productization on a large scale.
It can be said that startups are facing high barriers to entry.
If trade frictions between the U.S. and China deepen further, the fate of the Chinese semiconductor chip industry will attract even greater attention.
The Chinese GPU market should heat up further, helped by the insourcing of chips and the country's policy of promoting new digital infrastructure. Many more players will break into the market in the future.
36Kr, a Chinese tech news portal founded in Beijing in 2010, has more than 150 million readers worldwide. Nikkei announced a partnership with 36Kr on May 22, 2019.
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