A Montreal-based company that develops artificial intelligence (AI) solutions is setting up an office in Singapore following a US$102 million series A investment from some of the biggest names in tech. It claims it’s the largest ever series A round for an AI company.
Element AI, a research lab and #startup incubator, says Singapore – with its growing AI presence and sizeable talent pool – will serve as the company’s hub for Southeast Asia. Its office in the city-state will open in the second half of the year. The company previously opened an office in Japan, its first in Asia.
“Besides being a target market for Element AI, Asia is a source of considerable funding. Both Tencent Holdings from China and Hanwha Investment from South Korea are significant investors,” it says in a statement.
Element AI seeks to help companies lacking resources and experience in AI to start using the technology to transform their businesses. Some of the solutions it offers include AI-as-a-service, where it builds customized apps to help firms unlock the value of their data, as well as natural language understanding and predictive analytics for industries like manufacturing.
It was founded just last year by serial entrepreneurs Jean-François Gagné and Nicolas Chapados, Real Ventures and noted Canadian computer scientist Yoshua Bengio. Bengio is dubbed “a co-father of deep learning tech,” having pioneered cutting-edge research that many say is unrivalled in the AI world. That includes his work at the the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, which has been funded by government and private sector entities – including Google and Microsoft, among other tech giants.
Element AI itself is backed by Microsoft Ventures, which invested in the company’s seed round, and returned to participate in its series A. This most recent round was led by prominent Silicon Valley investor Data Collective, while Fidelity Investments Canada, Hanwha Investment, Intel Capital, National Bank of Canada, Development Bank of Canada, NVIDIA, Real Ventures, and several sovereign funds joined in.
Hiring top talent
Element AI says it will use the fresh funds to accelerate its capabilities and invest in large-scale AI projects globally. It plans to create 250 jobs by January 2018 – 100 will be based in Montreal, another 100 in Toronto, and 50 in Asia, CBC reports.
“We’re looking at domain experts, artificial intelligence experts,” Gagné was quoted as saying by CBC. “We already have quite a few, but we’re looking at people that are at the top of their game in their domains.
“And at this point, it’s no longer just pure artificial intelligence, but people who understand, extremely well, robotics, industrial manufacturing, cybersecurity, and financial services in general, which are all the areas we’re going after.”
Gagné says that Element AI has delivered 10 projects to clients in those areas, including a Japanese semiconductor company that wants to analyze data gathered by assembly robots in its factory. He adds that the firm hasn’t accepted any startups into its incubator program but will announce its first soon.