Toyota’s $100 Million Venture Fund for Artificial Intelligence Start-Ups in Silicon Valley

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by Yeo-Ri Kim
Toyota Research Institute in Silicon Valley cooperates with various US firms and institutes to develop technologies for safer automobiles and better accesses to cars for all. [Image: Toyota Official Twitter account]

On July 11, Toyota — the world’s second largest automotive manufacturer, headquartered in Japan — announced its first formal venture fund: Toyota Artificial Intelligence (AI) Ventures. The new fund invests $100 million into technology start-ups as a subsidiary of Toyota Research Institute (TRI), located in Silicon Valley, California. The venture capital focuses on artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous mobility, and data and cloud technology sectors. The initial beneficiaries of the fund are three start-ups; Silicon Valley based Nauto, SLAMcore in the United Kingdom, and Israel-based Intuition Robotics.

Since Toyota Motor Corporation established TRI in Los Altos, CA in 2015, the institute has collaborated with local companies and academic institutions to develop and apply advanced technology for enhancing the safety of automobiles. TRI funded $25 million into the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL) to form the SAIL-Toyota Center for AI research in 2015. Additionally, TRI is running offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Ann Arbor, Michigan, collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan respectively.

Japan— the world’s third largest economy— has been California’s longstanding trade and investment partner, and was California’s fourth largest trade partner in 2015. In 2014, 1,392 Japanese companies were located in California. Japan is the biggest foreign direct investment (FDI) country for CA, providing 24.2% of overall FDI to the state. Japanese FDI was the second largest source for the United States as a whole; the total stock of Japanese FDI in the United States was $344.1 billion in 2013. In 2012, Japanese-owned companies invested $6.2 billion in research and development in the United States. 

Between 2003 and 2015, Japanese firms announced over 1,400 investment projects in the United States. Given that over 25% of all announced projects were in automotive parts, Toyota has led this investment trend. In January, Toyota announced its $10 billion US investment plan over the next five years. As a part of the plan, in early July, Toyota opened a $1 billion, state-of-the-art North American Headquarters in Plano, Texas.  Additionally, Toyota is constructing a new manufacturing plant in Kentucky, investing $1.3 billion. This year, Toyota celebrated its 60-year anniversary in the United States. Toyota will expand its commitment in the Country, fostering workforces and students in STEM fields as well as enriching cultural diversity of local communities.

Yeo-Ri Kim is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a Master's candidate in Global Policy Studies at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas.