The Canadian startup Element AI, based out of Montreal, has recently completed its series B round of funding, raising $151 million dollars to fund their AI expansion goals. Element AI’s goal is to bring the power of AI to companies that aren’t typically likely to use it, making AI available to those who aren’t savvy regarding AI and computer technologies.
Element AI was founded in 2016, and it aims to dramatically expand the use of AI outside of the traditional fields like retail and security. Element AI hopes to “turn research and industry expertise into software solutions that exponentially learn and improve”, focusing specifically on the supply chain and financial services sectors.
According to VentureBeat, Element AI’s successful series B funding managed to accrue over $151.3 million dollars from both old and new investors. The startup plans to invest this money in the marketing of its current product line as well as in the development of new AI solutions. The CEO of Element AI, Jean-François Gagné, put out a recent press release remarking that the company is excited to start working with their new partners who wish to explore the potential of AI in non-traditional market areas. According to Gagné, Element AI remains fully committed to operationalizing AI, despite it being “the industry’s toughest challenge”.
Although AI is frequently in the headlines, AI applications are primarily found in a few specific fields. Element AI was founded with the idea that AI will be the next major transformative technology, although not every business is equipped to take advantage of it. The disparity between technology companies that are positioned to take advantage of AI and non-tech companies creates a substantial divide between companies who can use AI and those that can’t. Element AI wants to bring AI algorithms to companies that lack the experience to properly utilize AI.
Element AI set out to achieve this by providing consultation to companies that could potentially benefit from utilizing AI, helping them identify areas where they could implement AI solutions. The company has since expanded to offering other services, offering products tailored to specific industries like retail/logistics, financial services, manufacturing, and insurance. The list of specialized products that the company offers is likely to grow, thanks to the substantial increase in funding the company has received.
Element AI is not the only company to try and operationalize AI, with other companies like UiPath creating tools designed to allow companies to automate repetitive tasks. However, Element has definitely been the most successful at bringing AI to a wider section of society.
As reported by CrunchBase, Element AI has worked with many different companies, including Gore Mutual, Bank of Canada, National Bank, LG, and others. In terms of investors, many of their supporters from the series A investment have returned to back the company a second time, including Real Venture, BDC Capital, Hanwha Asset Management and DCVC. Some of the new investors in the company include Gouvernement du Quebec and McKinsey & Company.
According to TechCrunch, McKinsey is a management consultancy company, and though at first glance the company seems like a competitor to Element AI, McKinsey seems to be funneling customers to Element. Many system integrators don’t have the experience with AI needed to ascertain the best uses for the technology, while Element AI has experience with emerging technologies and computing. QuantumBlack, the AI and advanced analytics division of McKinsey, has also established its own offices in Montreal, where they will be collaborating on projects with Element AI.
Element AI also stated in its press release that the company would be using the newly acquired funds to expand its operations across the globe. Currently, the company has approximately 500 employees located in offices around Singapore, South Korea, Seoul, London, and Toronto.
Element AI isn’t the only Canadian AI startup to see recent success. The company CDPQ recently launched its own AI funding initiative intended to advance the commercialization of AI platforms throughout Quebec.
AI Security Monitoring & Job Recruitment Companies Raise Funds
VentureBeat reports on two new high fundings for startups developing artificial intelligence. Umbo Computer Vision (UCV) works on autonomous video security systems to businesses, while Xor is developing an AI chatbot platform for recruiters and job seekers. Both startups are located in San Francisco, and UCV is a joint venture with Taiwan and has a base there and in the UK too. UCV raised $8 million for its Ai-powered video security, while Xor managed to raise $8.4 million for its project.
Xor’s capital infusion came after a year in which the startup tripled its sales in the US, “reaching $2 million in annual recurring revenue and closing deals with over 100 customers in 15 countries, including ExxonMobil, Ikea, Baxter Personnel, Heineken, IBS, Aldi, Hoff, McDonald’s, and Mars.” As the company co-founder and CEO Aida Fazylova explains, she “started the company to let recruiters focus on the human touch — building relationships, interviewing candidates, and attracting the best talent to their companies. Meanwhile, AI takes care of repetitive tasks and provides 24/7 personalized service to every candidate. We are proud to get support from SignalFire and other amazing investors who help us drive our mission to make the recruitment experience better and more transparent for everyone.”
Xor’s chatbot “automates tedious job recruitment tasks, like scheduling interviews; sorting applications; and responding to questions via email, text, and messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and Skype. The eponymous Xor — which is hosted on Microsoft’s Azure — draws on over 500 sources for suitable candidates and screens those candidates autonomously, leveraging 103 different languages and algorithms trained on 17 different HR and recruitment data sets.”
According to Grand View Research, the chatbot market is expected to reach $1.23 billion by 2025, while Gartner predicts that chatbots will power 85% of all customer service interactions by the year 2020.
For its part, Umbo develops “ software, hardware, and AI smarts that can detect and identify human behaviors related to security, such as intrusion, tailgating (when an unauthorized individual follows someone into private premises), and wall-scaling.”
The company says it has developed its AI systems entirely in-house, and their system incorporates three components.“AiCameras are built in-house and feature built-in AI chips, connecting directly to the cloud to bypass servers and video recording intermediates, such as NVRs or DVRs. Light is AI-powered software for detecting and issuing alerts on human-related security actions.” There is also “TruePlatform, a centralized platform where businesses can monitor and manage all their cameras, users, and security events.” As Shawn Guan, Umbo’s cofounder and CEO points out, the company launched Umbo Light, “which implemented feedback that we gathered from our customers about what their primary wants from video security systems were. This allowed us to design and deliver a system based on the needs of those who use it most.”
The global video surveillance market, which is now practically relying on the use of AI, was pegged at $28 billion in 2017 and is expected to grow to more than $87 billion by 2025.
AI Startups Are Breaking Funding Records Around The World
It seems that venture capitalists are really picking up the tabs of artificial startups, not only in the US but around the world. Venture Beat presented recently the Q3 2019 data from the National Venture Capital Association. According to that information “965 AI-related companies in the U.S. have raised $13.5 billion in venture capital through the first 9 months of this year. That should eclipse the 1,281 companies that raised $16.8 billion in 2018, according to the 3Q 2019 PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.”
NVCA noted that the sector is still in its youth and that“the average deal size and valuations still tend to fluctuate quite a bit from quarter to quarter.” Still, as they also point out, “have clearly moved well past early, experimental stages, which tend to attract lots of little bets as investors explore the terrain.”
At the same time, TechWorld cites a 2018 report by the McKinsey Global Institute that AI “could contribute an additional global economic activity worth around $13 trillion by 2030, by which point around 70 percent of companies will have adopted at least one form of AI”.TechWorld adds that eight of the top 20 European universities and 40% of European tech unicorns’ currently reside in the UK, while AI venture capital firm Asgard estimates that the UK has the largest “ecosystem of AI startups” in Europe.
TechWorld also lists 36 AI startups that deserve attention, and its top five choices are the following:
[ ] Distributed, an on-demand workforce platform that assists businesses focused on delivering digital outcomes faster and to a higher standard.
[ ] SenSat builds digital copies of physical environments, where artificial intelligence models can be released to help understand the parameters of that environment and provide valuable feedback. The one-line mission statement is: “To teach computers how to understand the physical world we all live in.”
[ ] CognitionX, an advice marketplace targeting the growing field of AI and machine learning, built by Charlie Muirhead and Tabitha Goldstaub.
[ ] Phrasee, which uses AI to create marketing copy for customers including The Times, SuperDry and Domino’s. The company has developed a language generation algorithm that analyses engagement from previous campaigns to craft the content in email subject lines, push notifications and social media ads.
[ ] Deputi, which is leveraging AI to help businesses minimize the costs of day-to-day operational tasks using automation.
On the European continent itself, Silicon Anals consider the Dutch companies as the “early adopters of AI and are competitive when it comes to the importance placed on new AI developments.” It points to the following three AI companies as top to watch in the coming period:
– Dashmote (Amsterdam, current funding € 2.5 million) creates artificial intelligence technology that helps companies make complex decisions based on data gathered from images and text uploaded to the internet. Founded in 2014 by Dennis Tan (CEO), Matthäus Schreder (CPO), and Stefan Tan (CFO), the company’s platform is capable of analyzing the images and gain valuable insights.
– Doculayer.ai ( The Hague, € 3 million) is a content management platform that leverages AI to manage unstructured information. The company’s technology is capable of analyzing the content automatically, enhance the findability, and help enrich the quality of the documents.
– Owlin (Amsterdam, € 3.1 million), which provides real-time news analysis. The company uses the latest AI and machine learning technologies to monitor, analyze, and visualize more than 2.8 million news sources worldwide in 8 languages and all in near real-time.
In Asia, for example, China’s SenseTime Group, currently regarded as the world’s most valuable AI startup, has seen its valuation breach US$7.5 billion this year, following massive investments from the likes of SoftBank. The same investor as Nikkei Asian Review reports, “is accelerating its investment into the country’s artificial intelligence startups despite the verdict of its parent group’s founder that Japan is ‘underdeveloped’ in the cutting edge technology.
All this indicates that 2019 could be the best for AI startups yet.
U.S. Government Blacklists Top AI Startups in China
The United States government has blacklisted several top artificial intelligence startups in China. This action follows the already existing trade blacklist that has been present against China since the beginning of the ongoing trade war. The new developments are a response to the current actions being taken against Muslim minorities in the country. The decision will undoubtedly increase the current tensions between the U.S. and China.
The new policy will require U.S. government approval for firms who want to buy components from U.S. companies. It was the same tactic used against China in the Huawei Technologies Co Ltd conflict.
According to the U.S. Government and Department of Commerce, “entities have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups.”
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has said that the U.S. government will not tolerate the actions that are taking place in the Xinjiang region of China.
Blacklist Comes Days Before Trade Talks Resume
The new developments come just as trade talks are set to resume between Washington and Beijing in the coming days.
Companies that are being targeted include some of China’s most important AI startups. Included in the list are Hikvision, a video surveillance gear company with a market value of $42 billion, the $7.5 billion valued ScienceTime, the Alibaba connected Megvii valued at $4 billion, speech recognition specialist iFlytek Co, data recovery company Xiamen Meiya Pico Information Co, and facial recognition company Yitu Technology.
In total, there are 28 entities that the U.S. Commerce Department has added to the blacklist; Eight of them are companies and the other 20 are organizations including local public security bureaus, which have been targeted for their direct role in the ongoing human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has announced that they will be reviewing their relationship with SenseTime Group Ltd. According to the university, their relationship with the company is to “confront some of the world’s greatest challenges.” The co-founder of SenseTime is MIT graduate Xiao’ou Tang.
Damage to AI Startups in China
Many of the companies should be able to change over to backup supply chains, but there is still the strong possibility of heavy damage. Research will likely slow down as many of the companies rely on the chips created in the United States, and partnerships with U.S. companies can start to deteriorate or even come to a complete stop.
Beijing has been largely quiet on the issue, and they will still attend the trade meetings in Washington. However, the companies involved have not been quite like the government.
According to Hikvision, “Punishing Hikvision, despite these engagements, will deter global companies from communicating with the U.S. government, hurt Hikvision’s U.S. businesses partners and negatively impact the U.S. economy.”
In a statement released by SenseTime, the company expressed their views on the issue while also claiming they follow all relevant laws in the jurisdictions they operate within. The company also reiterated their commitment to ethics within the AI industry.
After the announcement of the blacklist, iFlytek fell by 2.7% and Xiamen Meiya by 1.8%.
With artificial intelligence becoming such a huge part of the global technology market with its enormous potential, it will likely keep becoming a target. It can be expected that the AI industry becomes a tool used against nations and companies, and it will be included in actions such as blacklisting.