SoftBank Explores Investment in French AI Startup Mistral, Sources Say – Yahoo Finance

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(Bloomberg) — SoftBank Group Corp. is exploring a potential investment in Mistral AI, the French company emerging as Europe’s hottest artificial intelligence startup, people with knowledge of the matter said.

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The Japanese tech giant has expressed interest in backing Mistral the next time it raises funds, the people said. Any deal could potentially value Mistral at more than $2 billion, though the two parties haven’t discussed precise terms, according to the people.

Deliberations are ongoing and there’s no certainty they will lead to an agreement, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. Representatives for SoftBank and Mistral declined to comment.

Mistral has positioned itself as a plucky European champion challenging US dominance in the field of artificial intelligence. It was formed in early 2023 by former engineers at Google’s DeepMind and Meta Platforms Inc.

In December, Mistral closed a $415 million round from a range of investors, including Salesforce Inc. and Nvidia Corp. The financing valued the firm at about $2 billion. Microsoft Corp., which is already a key partner of OpenAI, said last month it would invest €15 million ($16 million) in Mistral and make the French company’s latest model available to customers of its Azure cloud services. After the Microsoft deal, Mistral swiftly announced partnerships with IBM and Snowflake Inc.

In recent months, SoftBank has turned more attention toward AI investments after staying out of financing rounds for booming generative AI startups like OpenAI. Alex Clavel, co-chief executive officer of the SoftBank Vision Funds, has said the firm is “looking very carefully” at generative AI firms but will place its bets wisely.

SoftBank’s billionaire founder Masayoshi Son is seeking as much as $100 billion to bankroll a chip venture to compete with Nvidia and supply semiconductors essential for AI, Bloomberg News reported last month. The optimism on AI has also benefited SoftBank-backed chip designer Arm Holdings Plc, which has seen its share price more than doubling since its initial public offering last year.

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