Canada has developed into an artificial intelligence (AI) research powerhouse, and it isn’t slowing down any time soon if new reports are any indication.
Element AI, a Montreal-based AI company focused on enterprise solutions, announced that it has raised USD102 million (CAD137.5 million) in its first round of venture capital funding, the largest for any AI company in history.
The funding will be used to ramp up research, accelerate enterprise AI adoption, invest in large-scale AI projects globally, and create 250 new jobs in the Canadian high tech sector by January 2018.
“As we’ve been launching the business in the last year, we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive feedback and the level of interest in the market for the services we’re working on,” CEO and co-founder Jean-François Gagné tells IT World Canada. “We received funding from large corporations and startups across the globe and we’re going to use this to scale up our business and work on new projects.”
Element AI was officially launched in October 2016 by Gagné and Yoshua Bengio, a University of Montreal professor and a “co-father of deep learning technology.” The company offers an AI-as-a-Service platform, which aims to help organizations embrace an AI-first world by identifying opportunities to maximize their business using the technology.
“Artificial Intelligence is a ‘must have’ capability for global companies,” Gagné points out. “Without it, they are competitively impaired if not at grave risk of being obsoleted in place…This is why leaders have backed us with the world’s largest Series A round ever for an artificial intelligence company. This historic round will help Element AI deliver profoundly powerful AI platforms for all, not just the few.”
Gagné says that a portion of the funding will be used to open several new office locations, first in Toronto and then across the Pacific in Japan, Singapore, and South Korea by the end of the year.
“We want to be the first international AI company from Canada – we want to operate at a global scale and there’s tremendous demand for AI in Asia,” Gagné explains. “Canada is a great market with lots of talent, but the bulk of the market is outside of our borders, so we need to be able to expand and connect to a worldwide system.”
Despite these global goals, Gagné commends the strong Canadian AI industry and the federal government’s recently announced support for it.
“I think we’re at this moment in time where something finally clicked, because we’ve seen the community and the government fall in line and start to communicate with each other, which has resulted in new programs and financing for fundamental AI research, business development, and talent investment” he says. “This strong support is encouraging Canadians to be ambitious in a way that very few Canadian companies have been in the past. And now with the right tools and resources to succeed, the message to Canadians is that they can shoot high and go after their big goals.”
Prominent investors in Element AI include Intel Corporation, Microsoft Corp., and the National Bank of Canada, as well as Data Collective (DCVC), a venture capital fund backing entrepreneurs in the tech industry, early-stage investor Real Ventures, Fidelity Investments Canada, Hanwha Investment, and gaming technology company Nvidia.
“Intel is all-in on AI,” says Naveen Rao, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Artificial Intelligence Products Group (AIPG). “In addition to hardware, we’re committed to developing the software ingredients necessary to accelerate complex, data-intensive processes. Such an endeavor means investing in the best minds in the world and Element AI has the intellectual horsepower to help us all advance artificial intelligence like never before.”
Jeff Herbst, vice president of business development at Nvidia, says Element AI is doing “amazing work” enabling AI for a wide variety of industries while leveraging its deep learning platform.
“Element AI will benefit by continuing to leverage Nvida’s high-performance GPUs [graphic processing units] and software at large scale to solve some of the world’s most challenging issues,” he adds.
Gagné says these “seasoned” investors will support the company as it attempts to “democratize the AI firepower reserved today for only the largest of tech corporations.”
“Intel, Microsoft, and NVIDIA, as pioneers and champions of AI hardware and software, likewise understand that their businesses flourish as every company is empowered with world-class AI,” he concludes.