Artificial intelligence firm Laiye has raised $42 million in Series C funding, the company announced on Monday. The round comes as Chinese startups scramble for cash amid a new flu-like epidemic that has swept the country.

Why it matters: Fundraising by Chinese startups has this year slumped by around 60% year on year to $1.8 billion. The number of deals has fallen to 168 from 440 at the same time, according to data from consultancy Preqin.

  • The virus, known officially as Covid-2019, has created uncertainty for startups as investors worry about the short-term effects of the outbreak on China’s economy.
  • In June, Laiye raised $35 million in a Series B led by cross-border venture capital firm Cathay Innovation.

Details: Laiye’s Series C is co-led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Lightspeed China Partners, the company said on Monday.

  • Cathay Innovation and Wu Capital also followed this round. Both first took part in Laiye’s Series B. Microsoft was a lead investor in the company’s Series A.
  • Laiye focuses on artificial intelligence and chatbots, as well as robotic process automation (RPA), which allows companies to assign repetitive tasks to computers.
  • The company will use the proceeds of the funding round to focus on recruitment to “strengthen our business and technology,” Laiye CEO Wang Guanchun, said in a statement.
  • Meanwhile, Weng Jiaqi, former chief technology officer at chatbot developer Emotibot, has joined Liaye as vice president of solution engineering.
  • The company has been providing community-level government agencies free software to automate calling residents to collect health information and aggregate the data during the Covid-19 epidemic, the company said.

Context: Laiye last year merged with Awesome Technology to launch UiBot, an RPA platform that allows companies to automate rule-based operations that the company claims will “significantly improve operational efficiency,” while decreasing labor costs.

Christopher Udemans is a Shanghai-based technology reporter. He covers Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, and cybersecurity. You can contact him at chrisudemans [at] technode [dot] com. More by Chris Udemans

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