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Musk’s AI start-up taps Hong Kong and Middle East investors to raise $6bn

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Elon Musk’s xAI is in talks to raise up to $6bn, as the Tesla and X chief looks to global investors, including in Hong Kong, to finance his challenge to Microsoft-backed OpenAI.

The billionaire’s artificial intelligence start-up has courted wealthy individuals and investors around the world in recent weeks, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

According to four people, these talks have included family offices in Hong Kong, the territory that is increasingly controlled by Beijing.

Three people with knowledge of the talks said Musk hoped to raise as much as $6bn in fresh equity capital for xAI at a proposed valuation of $20bn. However, the people cautioned that negotiations were ongoing and that the Tesla chief was still testing investor appetite for such large sums.

One person said he had also targeted sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East, while others said investors in Japan and South Korea had been approached.

Raising money in Hong Kong for a US artificial intelligence firm could become a politically fraught process as geopolitical tensions rise.

Washington has sought to impose export controls designed to hamper China’s development of advanced technologies. The Biden administration last year banned some US investment in Chinese AI, including in Hong Kong.

Musk’s xAI launched its first product in December, a chatbot named Grok, which is being trained using social media posts on X, allowing it to give more up-to-date answers than its competitors.

Morgan Stanley — which in 2022 helped finance Musk’s leveraged buyout of X, formerly Twitter — is co-ordinating the fundraising, one of the people said. The bank declined to comment. Musk did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The scale of the attempted fundraising reflects the enormous costs required to develop generative AI — models that produce humanlike text, images and code in seconds — which requires huge computing power, vast amounts of data and cutting-edge chips.

San Francisco-based rival OpenAI has raised about $13bn from Microsoft alone. Other start-ups such as Anthropic and Cohere have also raised billions of dollars from the likes of Google, Amazon and Silicon Valley’s top venture capital groups.

Nevada-based xAI filed documents with the US Securities and Exchange Commission in December that showed it was seeking to raise $1bn in funding from equity investors.

The filing showed it had raised $135mn towards its goal. A Bloomberg report in January said it had raised $500mn. Musk said on X that the report was “fake news”.

Musk was a founding investor in OpenAI but walked away in 2018 over disagreements with chief executive Sam Altman. He launched his own AI company in July last year, complaining that rivals such as OpenAI, Microsoft and Google were censoring their AI products and were not focused enough on safety measures.

OpenAI is in the process of carrying out a secondary sale of some of its employees’ shares in a deal that values the San Francisco-based business at $86bn.

Musk has not revealed details about how xAI would be financed, other than a post on X in November that said current shareholders in X would “own 25 per cent” of the company, without further explanation.

X’s backers, who helped fund Musk’s $44bn takeover of the business then known as Twitter, include Oracle boss Larry Ellison, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Fidelity Management and Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Fidelity recently marked down its investment in X by about 70 per cent, giving the company a value of around $12.5bn.

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