Tokyo-based startup Sakana AI, founded by ex-Google researchers David Ha and Llion Jones, just secured $30 million in its latest seed funding round from several notable investors. This funding will be used to develop small AI models.

The word Sakana means “fish” in Japanese and it is inspired by the behavior of schools of fish and flocks of birds working together. Similarly, Sakana AI envisions enabling smaller AI models to work in synergy, thereby achieving greater efficiency than what larger standalone models might offer. These smaller models should be able to work with less data compared to larger counterparts like OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Google Bard.

The announcement on Tuesday revealed that the latest funding round places the valuation of the Tokyo-based startup at approximately $200 million. This information comes from a source close to the matter, who preferred to remain anonymous due to the confidential nature of these details.

Leading this funding round is Lux Capital, with significant contributions from Khosla Ventures, Sony Group Corp, and Japanese telecom giant NTT, among others. Adding to the investor lineup are several prominent figures in the AI field, including Jeff Dean, who leads Google’s AI and research division, Alexandr Wang, the CEO of Scale AI, and Clément Delangue, the CEO of HuggingFace.

Launched only last year, Sakana originated from the collaborative efforts of the two aforementioned seasoned industry researchers, David Ha and Llion Jones, both of whom boast prior experience in AI systems development at Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

The innovative direction taken by the startup shows promise in paving the way for more cost-effective AI training and usage compared to current technologies. This is particularly relevant in the realm of generative AI, a technology that has recently seized the attention of Silicon Valley for its proficiency in producing text and images based on user prompts.

Lux Capital investor Brandon Reeves, who is currently in the process of joining Sakana’s newly formed board said: “A belief we have is if you have to spend a billion dollars to do something there’s probably a better way to do it.”

Presently, Sakana’s team comprises around 10 members. With the new influx of funding, the company intends to expand its workforce and ensure its operational stability for the coming years. According to Ha, the company has been focused on developing software-based tools essential for constructing its compact AI models. Additionally, Sakana has been actively engaged in creating some proof-of-concept models to demonstrate the potential of its technology.