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OpenAI will give roughly 10 AI startups $1M each and early access to its systems

OpenAI, the San Francisco-based lab behind AI systems like GPT-3 and DALL-E 2, today launched a new program to provide early-stage AI startups with capital and access to OpenAI tech and resources.

Called Converge, the cohort will be financed by the OpenAI Startup Fund, OpenAI says. The $100 million entrepreneurial tranche was announced last May and was backed by Microsoft and other partners. The 10 or so founders chosen for Converge will receive $1 million each and admission to five weeks of office hours, workshops and events with OpenAI staff, as well as early access to OpenAI models and "programming tailored to AI companies."

"We’re excited to meet groups across all phases of the seed stage, from pre-idea solo founders to co-founding teams already working on a product," OpenAI writes in a blog post shared with TechCrunch ahead of today's announcement. "Engineers, designers, researchers, and product builders ... from all backgrounds, disciplines, and experience levels are encouraged to apply, and prior experience working with AI systems is not required."

The deadline to apply is November 25, but OpenAI notes that it'll continue to evaluate applications after that date for future cohorts.

When OpenAI first detailed the OpenAI Startup Fund, it said recipients of cash from the fund would receive access to Azure resources from Microsoft. It's unclear whether the same benefit will be afforded to Converge participants; we've asked OpenAI to clarify. (Update: An OpenAI spokesperson confirmed that Converge will include Azure access.) We've also asked OpenAI to disclose the full terms for Converge, including the equity agreement, and we'll update this piece once we hear back.

Beyond Converge, surprisingly, there aren't many incubator programs focused exclusively on AI startups. The Allen Institute for AI has a small accelerator that launched in 2017, which provides up to a $500,000 pre-seed investment and up to $450,000 in cloud compute credits. Google Brain founder Andrew Ng heads up the AI Fund, a $175 million tranche to initiate new AI-centered businesses and companies. And Nat Friedman (formerly of GitHub) and Daniel Gross (ex-Apple) fund the AI Grant, which provides up to $250,000 for "AI-native" product startups and $250,000 in cloud credits from Azure.

With Converge, OpenAI is no doubt looking to cash in on the increasingly lucrative industry that is AI. The Information reports that OpenAI -- which itself is reportedly in talks to raise cash from Microsoft at a nearly $20 billion valuation -- has agreed to lead financing of Descript, an AI-powered audio and video editing app, at a valuation of around $550 million. AI startup Cohere is said to be negotiating a $200 million round led by Google, while Stability AI, the company supporting the development of generative AI systems, including Stable Diffusion, recently raised $101 million.

The size of the largest AI startup financing rounds doesn't necessarily correlate with revenue, given the enormous expenses (personnel, compute, etc.) involved in developing state-of-the-art AI systems. (Training Stable Diffusion alone cost around $600,000, according to Stability AI.) But the continued willingness of investors to cut these startups massive checks -- see Inflection AI's $225 million raise, Anthropic's $580 million in new funding and so on -- suggests that they have confidence in an eventual return on investment.