This is the way the Investment Tracker ends the year — not with a bang or a whimper, but something in between. The week saw $320 million in activity, which is nothing to sneeze at, given the past weeks of comparatively anemic fund flow of $100 million or so (and in the not-too-distant past, sometimes even less).
But digging deeper a bit into the numbers, we find that one deal was responsible for almost all of that $320 million. The biggest transaction of the week took place in the logistics space, where a $309 million round of funding led by Taiping Asset Management found its home in Beijing-based Shouqi Car Rental. Other private investors participated in the round. The rental firm operates across websites and mobile apps and offers users short- and longer-term car leasing. The proceeds will be used in part to expand the firm’s rental fleet.
Way down the totem pole was another transaction in Asia, this time in South Korea. Yello O2O, a business services company that operates as part of the country’s Yello Mobile, received $20.8 million from Q Capital Partners, which will be slated for health care and other verticals served by the company.
The only other deal that came in at the double-digit mark was for iGola, also in China, where the travel search engine firm landed a $19 million funding round from Rich Land Capital, a private equity firm.
The aforementioned trio of deals, Asia-focused as they are, may mark a surge in the region in terms of investor interest. The year wrapped up with roughly $50 billion in activity, in total, as measured in U.S. dollars. Of that amount, Asia as a region represented 17 percent of the total, and the U.S. was just over half of the cumulative amount.
Signal Media’s AI Reads The News
Since its founding in 2012, London-based artificial intelligence media monitoring company Signal Media has operated on the premise that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology will transform how businesses track and act on information, ultimately changing how businesses make strategic decisions.
“We’re a great example of applied AI,” said David Benigson, founder and CEO of Signal Media, “and a realistic example of how this technology can be applied to add value. There’s a lot of fear mongering that surrounds it. But actually, we’re a good example of how in today’s world, this very nascent and very exciting field can be applied to add real value to organizations.”
Just a few weeks ago, Signal Media closed a $7.4 million funding round with investments from U.K. and U.S. venture funds, said Benigson, including MMC Ventures, Hearst Ventures, Frontline Ventures, Reed Elsevier Ventures and Local Globe. The recent round brings Signal Media’s total funding to $10.2 million.
“I think our investors see Signal as a very promising SaaS company. We’ve grown over 500 percent in the last 12 months and continue to grow and scale pretty quickly,” said Benigson. “One of the key attributes of our platform is our ability to aggregate disparate sets of data. We’ve been focused on applying artificial intelligence to track the world’s media, allowing businesses to monitor their competitors, regulations relevant to them, their reputation.”
Signal Media began by scanning global online and print news coverage but has since expanded to an even broader range of data.
“We look at social feeds — over 6 million blogs — financial regulation, legislation, case law and the commentary that surrounds it, brokers’ research and broadcast. We’re now monitoring TV and radio on a global level — in 40 languages, across 90 markets,” Benigson said.
Benigson noted that Signal Media currently has over 100 corporate clients and counting. “We’ve been highly focused on financial and professional services and surrounding sectors like legal,” he said. “But we do also have clients in many other industries like retail, travel and leisure, and consumer.”
The key component of Signal Media’s services isn’t just its high volume of data aggregation from a wide range of sources — it’s how all of that information is meaningfully processed. For that, Signal Media uses some serious computing power.
“We use artificial intelligence and machine learning to extract insight and intelligence from that unstructured data, and to be able to do that in real time,” said Benigson. “We’ve built upwards of 15 individual machine learning analytics components that are able to analyze unstructured data and mine from it things like topics and trends.”
Signal Media can recognize and differentiate topics and trends based on context and content — hirings, firings, IPOs. Signal Media’s technology components recognize entities, companies, people and places within that text and disambiguate irrelevant mentions. They can distinguish between apple (the fruit) and Apple and Iceland the company and Iceland the country, for instance.
“None of the individual components are necessarily a silver bullet, but they, in symphony, are able to take this vast deluge of unstructured data and to mine it for intelligence,” said Benigson.
Benigson notes that, on top of the SaaS platform and the machine learning pipeline they built, Signal Media builds use-case specific products which enable business professionals to access the information they need to know to make smarter and faster strategic decisions.
With the new round of funding, Signal Media plans to invest heavily in their augmenting the data sets they aggregate and their AI capabilities, along with investing in the people within the company. Additionally, Benigson said that Signal Media plans to reach into the U.S. market in 2017.
“Expansion into the States is really an interesting and exciting opportunity. We see it as one of the largest and most attractive markets available to us to expand our efforts,” Beningson said. “There has been a lot of uncertainty around funding ecosystems and tech companies in the U.K. following Brexit. Hopefully, we’re a good example that the ecosystem is relatively strong here. We can still attract interest from U.S. investors and still have global ambitions.”
For Benigson, Signal Media’s work and global ambitions come with a responsibility to their client businesses.
“With everything that’s going on in the world — fake news and with misinformation being funneled online — businesses like ours have a responsibility to help our clients make sense of all of this data, to sift out the irrelevant and provide them with high-quality data that allows them to do their jobs most effectively,” he said.