With the global market for artificial intelligence expecting to be worth US$153 billion by 2020, startup incubators are keen on nurturing local talent in a bid to place Asian AI startups on the map.

This was part of what drove Tak Lo, Managing Director of Zeroth to launch a funding programme for early-stage AI and machine learning startups in Asia. In Zeroth's launch last July 1st, Lo told e27 that he wants a world-competitive AI company coming from Asia. “[Part] of that is taking Asian startups and being able to support them from a global network of entrepreneurs.”

Zeroth is a three-month funding programme that offers mentorship and US$20,000 in capital to early-stage startups. The team is still working out its application process but plans to launch its first batch this winter. Though Zeroth will accept startups from any AI vertical – “Surprise me,” says Mr.Lo – the program is stricter in its focus on Asia. Relevant startups outside of the region are welcome to apply, but for the most part, Zeroth’s emphasis is on Asia.

In China, tech giants such as Baidu and Alibaba are seen as the leaders of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Baidu, for example, has its own artificial intelligence research lab, which is headed by renowned machine learning expert Andrew Ng, previously an associate professor at Stanford University. Ant Financial, the financial arm of Alibaba, is partnering with Beijing-based startup Face++ to incorporate facial recognition technology into its mobile payment system, Alipay.

For startups in India, venture capital investments in AI in the United States provide some indication of the exploding interest in this space. According to data from CB Insights, VCs invested barely $415 million in AI ventures in 2012 and this exploded to $2.38 billion in 2015.

IBM, Amazon, Facebook and Google are bent on building horizontal platforms around AI, but for Asia, the opportunity to build vertical solutions for startups is the forecasted trend. In an interview with EconomicTimes India, Sanat Rao, partner of IDG Venturs, a venture capital company, said "There is a really big opportunity in sectors such as healthcare and automobiles for AI. Concider a healthcare AI platform that can learn from thousands and even millions of images and can make more accurate diagnosis as it learns."