Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) startup 01.AI has achieved a valuation of more than $1bn (7.3bn yuan) in under eight months, reported Bloomberg.

The startup, founded by Kai-Fu Lee, has also launched an open-source AI model that is claimed to outperform top models available in the market on certain metrics.

In an interview with the publication, Lee said 01.AI achieved unicorn status following an investment round that was joined by the cloud unit of Alibaba Group Holding.

01.AI’s foundational large language model (LLM), called Yi-34B, is claimed to outstrip other industry-leading models including Meta’s Llama 2 on some metrics.

Yi-34B is available to developers around the globe in English and Chinese.

Over the weekend, Hugging Face, which maintains leaderboards for the top-performing LLMs in various categories, published evaluations placing the Chinese model first for what are known as pre-trained base LLMs.

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“Llama 2 has been the gold standard and a big contribution to the open-source community,” Lee said, adding that “we want to provide a superior alternative not just for China but for the global market.”

The development comes amid the ongoing technology war between US and China.

Separately, speaking to TechCrunch, Lee said: “I think necessity is the mother of innovation, and there is clearly a huge necessity in China. Unlike the rest of the world, China does not have access to OpenAI and Google because those two companies did not make their products available in China, so I think many doing LLM are trying to do their part in creating a solution for a market that really needs this.”

Lee, who is currently the CEO of Sinovation Ventures, will also serve as the CEO of 01.AI. Previously, he worked at Google, Microsoft, and Apple.

In March, he started putting the 01.AI team together, and in June, the company started operations.

At 01.AI, Lee has assembled a team of over 100 individuals, including Chinese citizens who have been employed abroad and former US company coworkers.

Lee noted that in addition to AI experts, the team consists of seasoned business professionals who can assist with anything from mergers and acquisitions to IPO.

The AI startup has begun preparing its business plan, going beyond the recently unveiled open-source LLM, which has been trained using 34 billion parameters.

01.AI will collaborate with clients to develop solutions customised for a specific use case or market.

“Our proprietary model will be benchmarked with GPT-4,” Lee said.

GPT-4 is an LLM developed by Microsoft-backed OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT.

Global businesses including banks, insurers, and trading corporations will benefit from having a system available in both Chinese and English, he said. In the future, the business intends to add other languages.