Amid rising geopolitical tensions, many Chinese tech companies find themselves recalibrating their overseas pursuits, often sidestepping any reference to their origin. One bold startup called DP Technology stands out from the crowd. Working to apply artificial intelligence to molecular simulations, DP, short for “Deep Potential”, believes that the unifying power of “scientific research for humanity” will pave the way for its global expansion.
In 2018, DP was founded with renowned mathematician Weinan E as its advisor, setting its sights on providing a set of tools to conduct scientific computing. This process of computer simulations of mathematical models plays an indispensable role in the development of technology and in scientific research, according to the University of Waterloo. Areas that can benefit from scientific computing range from biopharmaceutical research and car design to semiconductor development.
“In the past, without a good computing or AI platform, everyone relied on experience-based trial and error. That process was often referred to as ‘cooking’ or ‘alchemy’,”
DP’s CEO and founder Sun Weijie told TechCrunch in an interview.
He continued, “This approach was relatively effective in the early stages of industrial development because user expectations for iteration weren’t that high, but now there is a growing demand for [technological] advancements. For example, consumers expect an increase in battery capacity each year and anticipate better performance from each new generation of vehicles. The traditional R&D model is no longer able to sustain these rapid market changes.”
However, DP has a solution. By combining machine learning, which allows computers to automatically learn from given data, with molecular simulations, they are able to analyze real-world products and systems through virtual models. This integration allows for machine learning to improve the speed and accuracy of simulations and solve problems in the physical world.
“A breakthrough in the research and development approach is necessary to keep up with these expectations of rapid iterations,” he added.
To that end, DP has devised a suite of software for industry players to discover and develop new products more efficiently. This includes a scientific computing platform that enables simulations of physical properties such as magnetism, optics, and electricity. These simulations then allow for materials like semiconductors and batteries to be designed in a faster and cheaper way. DP also offers a SaaS platform specifically for preclinical studies on drug discovery.
But DP goes above and beyond just providing software. They also offer services tailored to the needs of their industrial clients and conduct R&D processes for customers who may not fully utilize the potential of DP’s tools.
This unique mix of SaaS and service business models has already seen success in China, with DP expected to reach nearly 100 million yuan ($14 million) worth of contracts by 2023, up from “tens of millions of yuan” last year. And now, DP is gearing up to take this strategy to Western markets, where the field is dominated by deep-pocketed giants like DeepMind.
“There’s an old saying in China: the children from the poor become mature early. With much less funding at hand, we are the poor kids compared to the likes of DeepMind and OpenAI,” Sun said.
Despite its physical headquarters in Beijing, DP was conceived with a global mindset thanks to an open-source scientific computing community it founded, DeepModeling. And while their early focus was on China due to the COVID-19 pandemic halting international exchange, they are now expanding to the U.S. where they plan to open an office and work with a partner to distribute their products and services.
But this international expansion may not come without obstacles. The ongoing decoupling between the U.S. and China has divided the two countries across many areas, including scientific research. However, Sun remains confident in the resilience of science in the face of geopolitical complications.
“Both the fields of basic science and biopharmaceuticals are shared by all of humanity, and they are relatively open and inclusive. Comparatively speaking, I believe that these areas will be fine,” he said.
With over $140 million raised from top Chinese VC firms such as Qiming Venture Partners and Hillhouse Ventures, DP may not have the same level of funding as deep-pocketed giants like DeepMind, but their determination and innovation have already proven successful. As they continue to expand internationally and make their mark on the AI industry, it’s clear that DP Technology is a startup to watch in the coming years.