MTS Center for Artificial Intelligence (AI) has entered into an agreement with the Silicon Valley accelerator Plug and Play, which has invested in Google, PayPal and other IT companies. The partners expect that cooperation will give Russian startups access to Western investments and expertise, and Plug and Play – access to Russia. The operator himself plans to invest $ 100 million in AI startups by 2023. Competitors of MTS are also actively involved in the development of neural networks. According to experts, the topic has become popular because it improves the company’s image in the eyes of investors.
Representatives of the MTS Artificial Intelligence Center and the Plug and Play business incubator told Kommersant that they had signed an agreement on September 1. According to it, startups of the MTS accelerator in the field of AI will be able to receive training in Plug and Play, as well as receive investments from its partners around the world. Plug and Play is headquartered in Silicon Valley, the accelerator is known for investments, for example, in Google, PayPal, Landing Club. The company’s network includes more than 40 thousand startups and 500 partners.
Cooperation with Plug and Play will allow the center to expand its contacts with AI startups in the world, MTS hopes. For Plug and Play, the deal with MTS is an opportunity to connect a major Russian player to its network, the incubator notes.
The MTS AI Development Center was opened in 2017, one of its first developments was the voice assistant “Marvin”. In October 2020, the company changed its AI strategy, announcing its intention to develop products for the international market and plans to attract external investment.
MTS is looking for projects in natural language processing, behavioral and predictive analytics, digital twin creation, image recognition and processing. They can apply for investments up to $ 100 thousand. In total, MTS plans to invest $ 100 million in AI startups until 2023, the company said. In March, MTS has already invested about $ 10 million in the manufacturer of AI chips for “smart devices” Kneron.
According to IDC, the volume of the Russian AI market at the end of 2020 amounted to $ 291 million, the expenses of commercial and government organizations in this area increased by 22.4% compared to 2019. According to the forecast, by 2024 the market will reach $ 555 million. In addition to MTS, VimpelCom, MegaFon, Sberbank, Yandex, Mail.ru Group and others are engaged in the development of the direction.
Evgeny Chereshnev, Executive Vice President for Digital and New Business Development at VimpelCom, says that AI is in the top 3 areas of innovation for the company, “we are developing computer vision technologies, using AI to automate and systematize processes, as well as in geoanalytics “. As for investments, he noted, in the case of AI it is difficult to calculate the cost of development, but it is definitely several billion rubles a year.
The investments announced by MTS in the amount of $ 100 million are impressive given the fact that we are talking about an accelerator, and this is the seed stage, notes the founder of the investment company A. Partners Alexei Soloviev. “A particularly large amount looks for the Russian market, the average seed stage (seed) round here is from $ 500 thousand to $ 1 million. In Europe they usually talk about $ 1-2 million, in the USA – about $ 3-5 million. So for MTS this is a challenge “, – Mr. Solovyov considers, emphasizing that we are talking only about intentions.
If until recently many large companies had a vague idea of AI, now they know exactly what they need, says Vladimir Ufnarovsky, co-owner of Lanit-Terkoma company (part of Lanit group). According to him, foreign investors are often interested in complex tasks in the field of computer vision: work with warehouse stocks, visual positioning, and defectoscopy.
According to Mark Sherman, managing partner of B&C communications agency, investment in artificial intelligence is becoming a global trend that affects the perception of the company in the eyes of investors, as it demonstrates that it is investing in in-demand technologies.