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New Cisco AI investment fund not just ‘another billion dollars,’ CEO says

New AI innovations and benchmarks are announced every day (often multiple times a day), and enterprises are clamoring to take advantage. But sometimes it can be difficult to bridge the gap between what works in the lab and what works in the enterprise pipeline. 

To help support the startup system and expand the development of generative AI and large language models (LLMs), Cisco Investments today launched a $1 billion AI investment fund. The company also announced its backing of Cohere, Mistral AI and Scale AI, startups all valued in the billions as the result of ongoing fundraising sprees. 

Cisco leaders, however, emphasize that the initiative isn’t just monetary: The company plans to collaborate and co-innovate with companies and be “an agnostic provider and platform player in AI.”

“Everybody yawns when you hear about a billion dollars in AI these days — ‘Oh, another billion dollars,’” Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said today at Cisco Live in Las Vegas. “We’re thinking about it slightly differently.”

Cisco is defining “unique characteristics” in its partnerships, he explained, as opposed to doling out money to sit back and see a return on investment. 

“Part of our investment thesis is that there are unique co-development activities that we can enter into with them to bring you more innovative solutions and help you navigate the AI transition,” Robbins told the crowd at Cisco Live.

Research indicates that the market for generative AI will reach nearly $137 billion by 2030, up from $20.9 billion this year. Some even boldly predict that gen AI will inject $1 trillion into the U.S. economy over the next 10 years. 

Cisco, along with all the other tech giants, has made many AI-focused acquisitions and investments of its own over the last several years, and has also integrated gen AI and machine learning (ML) capabilities across its portfolio. Notably, it closed a deal in March to acquire observability platform Splunk for $28 billion. 

The tech giant has already committed nearly $200 million to its new $1 billion fund, leaders say. 

Today, it is putting its weight behind OpenAI competitor Mistral AI, which was founded by former Meta and Google DeepMind scientists and has been setting its sights on the U.S. market. Mistral, which develops new gen AI models for enterprise, is also reportedly closing in on a new $600 million funding round that would put its value at $6 billion. 

Mistral 7B is the company’s 7.3B parameter model that it says outperforms Llama on numerous benchmarks and approaches CodeLlama 7B performance on code. Codestral is Mistral’s new code-generating LLM that it claims outperforms all others. 

Cisco’s backing of Cohere is part of a $450 million round alongside Nvidia, Salesforce Ventures and PSP Investments. The infusion of funding puts the company’s valuation at $5 billion. Cohere is lauded for its security-focused frontier large language models (LLMs) and retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) capabilities.

Cisco is also now a backer of Scale AI, which provides training and validation for AI applications. To date, the 8-year-old company says it has performed 13 billion annotations and labeled 37 million gen AI data. It closed a $1 billion Series F round in May, bringing its valuation to $13.8 billion. 

According to Cisco corporate development SVP Derek Idemoto, the company takes several factors into account before making such investments. Firstly: “Does it address the real and evolving needs of our diverse customer base?” 

Also, Cisco targets companies solving complex technical challenges, “as these endeavors often lead to groundbreaking advancements,” he said. 

Teams and cultural fit are essential, as well. “Our investments are more than financial transactions; they represent long-term partnerships,” said Idemoto. “We actively engage with our portfolio companies, offering guidance, support and access to our network.”

Robbins reflected in his keynote today how AI is moving “literally at an unprecedented pace.”

He compared that pace to other emerging technologies over the years such as the cloud, 5G or the as-yet-to-be-realized metaverse. 

“How long did we talk about 5g before we deployed it? We talked about these technologies for years and years and years and years,” he said. 

While the first generation of AI has been around for decades, generative AI is “coming on the scene very quickly.” 

In the early days of cloud, CEOs were pressuring their companies to get into the cloud “and they had no idea why, other than everybody says we should be in the cloud.” It became a mad dash to deploy tools and mark the check box. 

“I think AI is going to be that on steroids,” said Robbins. 

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New AI innovations and benchmarks are announced every day (often multiple times a day), and enterprises are clamoring to take advantage. But sometimes it can be difficult to bridge the gap between what works in the lab and what works in the enterprise pipeline. 

To help support the startup system and expand the development of generative AI and large language models (LLMs), Cisco Investments today launched a $1 billion AI investment fund. The company also announced its backing of Cohere, Mistral AI and Scale AI, startups all valued in the billions as the result of ongoing fundraising sprees. 

Cisco leaders, however, emphasize that the initiative isn’t just monetary: The company plans to collaborate and co-innovate with companies and be “an agnostic provider and platform player in AI.”

“Everybody yawns when you hear about a billion dollars in AI these days — ‘Oh, another billion dollars,’” Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said today at Cisco Live in Las Vegas. “We’re thinking about it slightly differently.”


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Cisco is defining “unique characteristics” in its partnerships, he explained, as opposed to doling out money to sit back and see a return on investment. 

“Part of our investment thesis is that there are unique co-development activities that we can enter into with them to bring you more innovative solutions and help you navigate the AI transition,” Robbins told the crowd at Cisco Live.

Piling on more dollars for Mistral, Cohere, Scale AI

Research indicates that the market for generative AI will reach nearly $137 billion by 2030, up from $20.9 billion this year. Some even boldly predict that gen AI will inject $1 trillion into the U.S. economy over the next 10 years. 

Cisco, along with all the other tech giants, has made many AI-focused acquisitions and investments of its own over the last several years, and has also integrated gen AI and machine learning (ML) capabilities across its portfolio. Notably, it closed a deal in March to acquire observability platform Splunk for $28 billion. 

The tech giant has already committed nearly $200 million to its new $1 billion fund, leaders say. 

Today, it is putting its weight behind OpenAI competitor Mistral AI, which was founded by former Meta and Google DeepMind scientists and has been setting its sights on the U.S. market. Mistral, which develops new gen AI models for enterprise, is also reportedly closing in on a new $600 million funding round that would put its value at $6 billion. 

Mistral 7B is the company’s 7.3B parameter model that it says outperforms Llama on numerous benchmarks and approaches CodeLlama 7B performance on code. Codestral is Mistral’s new code-generating LLM that it claims outperforms all others. 

Cisco’s backing of Cohere is part of a $450 million round alongside Nvidia, Salesforce Ventures and PSP Investments. The infusion of funding puts the company’s valuation at $5 billion. Cohere is lauded for its security-focused frontier large language models (LLMs) and retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) capabilities.

Cisco is also now a backer of Scale AI, which provides training and validation for AI applications. To date, the 8-year-old company says it has performed 13 billion annotations and labeled 37 million gen AI data. It closed a $1 billion Series F round in May, bringing its valuation to $13.8 billion. 

According to Cisco corporate development SVP Derek Idemoto, the company takes several factors into account before making such investments. Firstly: “Does it address the real and evolving needs of our diverse customer base?” 

Also, Cisco targets companies solving complex technical challenges, “as these endeavors often lead to groundbreaking advancements,” he said. 

Teams and cultural fit are essential, as well. “Our investments are more than financial transactions; they represent long-term partnerships,” said Idemoto. “We actively engage with our portfolio companies, offering guidance, support and access to our network.”

AI moving at unprecedented rate

Robbins reflected in his keynote today how AI is moving “literally at an unprecedented pace.”

He compared that pace to other emerging technologies over the years such as the cloud, 5G or the as-yet-to-be-realized metaverse. 

“How long did we talk about 5g before we deployed it? We talked about these technologies for years and years and years and years,” he said. 

While the first generation of AI has been around for decades, generative AI is “coming on the scene very quickly.” 

In the early days of cloud, CEOs were pressuring their companies to get into the cloud “and they had no idea why, other than everybody says we should be in the cloud.” It became a mad dash to deploy tools and mark the check box. 

“I think AI is going to be that on steroids,” said Robbins. 





Author: Taryn Plumb
Source: Venturebeat
Reviewed By: Editorial Team
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