For the most part, the world stage for artificial intelligence is dominated by the West. Large tech companies like Facebook and Google tend to be the most prominent players. Zeroth, Asia’s first AI accelerator, wants to change that.
“Everyone laughed at us,” Tak Lo, managing director of Zeroth, told Tech in Asia. “I’m looking forward to proving people wrong.”
Zeroth launched in July, announcing its three-month program that includes US$20,000 in funding as well as mentorship from artificial intelligence and machine learning experts from all over the world. Since then, the accelerator has been on the hunt for extraordinary AI and machine learning startups in Asia. It’s taken Tak and his team all over the continent, from the Philippines to Vietnam, China to Australia.
Now, Zeroth has finally whittled its list down to 11 startups, its first batch ever.
“What was interesting […] is every ecosystem actually had somewhat good companies,” says Tak, reflecting on his trip through various Asian #startup ecosystems.
The cohort can connect to a wide network of seasoned tech entrepreneurs and investors.
Though some countries had more quality AI companies than others, those who dabbled in artificial intelligence generally tended to be at the top of their field no matter where they were. Part of that might have to do with the Asian diaspora, which can draw high-achieving individuals abroad for study and work, before returning them back to their native countries to follow their ambitions.
“They all went to the same school. They all went to Stanford, they all went to school overseas,” says Tak. “That was the interesting thing. In China, […] they all spoke English. Vietnam was the same, Malaysia was the same.”
The accelerator’s first batch covers a diverse spread of products, from tracking and monitoring your pet to boosting the productivity of rice harvests. The geographical distribution of Zeroth’s first cohort is also pretty broad: Taiwan, China, Singapore, India, Australia, Vietnam, and the U.S. Though the accelerator is starting with a focus on Asia, it’s open to expanding its scope to other regions, says Tak.
“We realized we were getting quality applications from across the globe,” he says. “We wanted to optimize on the best startups, not [the best in] a certain geography.”
Zeroth’s program starts today. The selected startups will continue working from their home countries – Zeroth is based in Hong Kong – and collaborate with Zeroth remotely. The accelerator, which is named after zero-based numbering, will connect its cohort to a wide network of seasoned tech entrepreneurs and investors such as Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype, and Rui Ma, partner at 500 Startups China. Before Zeroth, Tak was the director of global startup accelerator Techstars and a venture partner at Mind Fund, a VC company in Hong Kong.
Here’s the full list of startups in Zeroth’s first batch:
AniWear uses bio-sensing and AI technology to let pet owners track their pets and learn about their behavior, mood, and habits.
Botimize is an analytics platform that uses machine learning and natural language processing to let developers track, test, and optimize bots.
Claire.ai is a white-label chatbot that helps banks with customer service.
Designjar offers businesses quick and professional marketing graphics.
DT42 optimizes deep learning models, making them lighter, smaller, and less costly for companies in related industries like smart homes and drones.
Impress.ai provides AI-powered chatbots for screening interviews.
Matelab lets machine learning dummies and enthusiasts use various machine learning-powered algorithms, such as image recognition, through a chat interface.
ObjectAI automates visual tasks that are taxing or impossible for humans, like detecting and highlighting objects of interest in drone-camera video streams.
Rocco is an AI-assistant for social media marketing that can create and post social media content automatically.
Sero leverages AI to diagnose crop health issues and predict the productivity of rice harvests.