Rebels, a fabless AI chip startup from South Korea, said today that it has closed $124 million (165 billion KRW) in Series B round of funding to develop its third AI chip, called Rebel. The startup will also use the oversubscribed new capital, with an initial target of $90 million, to ramp up production of its data center-focused chip, Atom, and hire.
The Series B valued the three-year-old startup at approximately $658 million (880 billion KRW) post-money, Uprising's CFO, Sungkyue Shin, told TechCrunch in an exclusive interview. This latest capital infusion brings the total since the uprisings began in 2020 to $210 million.
South Korean telecom giant KT led this latest round as a strategic investor. Previous backers Temasek's Pavilion Capital and Korea Development Bank and new investors including Corella Capital and DG Daiwa Ventures also participated.
Rebel's fundraising comes at a crucial time in the chip industry, specifically around the development and use of AI chips.
Nvidia is the AI chip market leader whose name is synonymous with the AI boom currently sweeping the technology world. Many have noted how Nvidia thrived in part because of the moat it created around its ecosystem of hardware and software. But it was far from game-over for the rest of the field. Data processing and associated high costs continue to be major issues when it comes to AI applications, so the search for innovative breakthroughs to improve these continues.
Development is taking place from many fronts. Big tech titans such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft develop or have their own chips to integrate AI into their products and services. Open AI Chief Executive Officer Sam Altman visited South Korea last week to meet with the country's chip industry leaders, Samsung and SK Hynix. Beyond that, Open AI is said to be raising billions of dollars to establish chip fabrication factories to make its own AI chips. And to speed up processing while improving efficiency, many startups beyond revolutions are bringing new concepts to the table.
The fundraising — which has been rumored for months — comes on the heels of other moves at the startup. Last October, Rebellions announced that it would develop its newest Rebel chip in partnership with Samsung Electronics, which initially built the relationship around its Atoms chips. The two companies aim to complete development of Rebel by the end of this year and start mass production in 2025, Shin said, adding that the next-generation AI chip will target the manufacturing AI market that runs large language models (LLMs) and hyperscalers.
Shin told TechCrunch that Rebel will use Samsung Electronics' 4-nanometer fabrication process and its AI chip will be used in Samsung's advanced memory chip technology HBM3E, designed to handle high-bandwidth memory. Uprising's unique selling point is that its technology and products are more versatile than custom AI chips, meaning they can support a variety of generative AI models that require AI accelerators.
The company's CFO emphasized that Rebels will cooperate with Samsung from co-development and chip design to mass production of Rebel. Here's a second impetus for Samsung's work: Aside from its efforts in chips, South Korea's largest memory chipmaker is working on its own generative AI model, the Samsung Gauss.
It is also working with customers using its previous generations of chips. In May 2023, Rebellion's strategic investor, KT, installed Atom, Rebellion's data-center targeted AI chip, in its cloud-based neural processing units (NPU) infrastructure. Rebels says it expects to receive revenue from Atom in the second half of this year and will continue to produce that chip model through Samsung's 5-nanometer fabrication process. Atom is designed for data centers and language models with 7 billion parameters, while Rebel targets much larger language models, Shih noted.
Meanwhile, the startup's first AI chip, Ion, launched in November 2021, is undergoing qualification testing in the US and has yet to sign any commercial customers. Ion is designed for edge computing, and one key use case, the company believes, will be in financial services applications, where large firms can use the chips they build their own hardware to power stock prediction and trading applications.
Rebels CEO Sanghyun Park, a former quant developer at Morgan Stanley in New York, and four co-founders formed the AI chip startup in 2020.