Business Essentials for Professionals


Toyota VC Making Serial Investments In AI Startups To Refine Everyday Production Processes

Toyota VC Making Serial Investments In AI Startups To Refine Everyday Production Processes
The Japanese car maker Toyota Motor Corp is making large investments in startups through its first venture capital fund and the car maker hopes that it will be able to refine its everyday processes by implementing sharper supply-chain management and robotics to the manufacturing process of the company, said an executive of the fund.
Investments in a total of 36 startups which are at their early stages, which include  self-driving car software firm Nauto, factory video analytics company Drishti and air mobility firm Joby Aviation, have been made by the Silicon Valley-based Toyota AI Ventures fund which has in its kitty a total of $200 million under its management.
Major car makers around the world are aiming to gain leverage and advantage in the area of artificial intelligence as global auto companies focus on development of technologies and capacities for self driving vehicles and hence are also investing heavily into startups. Apart from the Japanese auto maker and largest auto company by vehicle sales in the world Toyota, other companies making such investments include the German auto giant Volkswagen AG.
According to Jim Adler, the founding managing director of the Toyota fund, in an interview cited the example of the benefits that the company seeks to gain from such investments. He said that the company wants to link up the dozens of factories that it has all around the world so that the company is able to quickly share the lessons learned at one plant and share them with factories which will help the company to maximize efficiency.
“If you look at cloud computing, for example, and cloud robotics, and fleet learning, when one robot learns something, the rest of the robots automatically learn that thing,” Adler said.
Even though the fund works closely with the parent auto company, the Toyota’s fund has also been given a good degree of freedom by its parent company because waiting for the Toyota’s management to take a decision on every investment opportunity would be a lengthy and complex process, said Adler which is a former rocket engineer at Lockheed Martin as well as a serial entrepreneur.
“We are at the edge of this Toyota ecosystem,” said Adler. “Being between the outside world and the inside world of Toyota, we are this sort of semi-permeable membrane that brings outside influence into the company,.” Adler added.
The automaker this year started Woven Capital, an $800 million venture capital fund to make growth-stage investments in companies including those in the Toyota AI Ventures portfolio.

Christopher J. Mitchell

Markets | Companies | M&A | Innovation | People | Management | Lifestyle | World | Misc