True to its motto, Intel Corp. is putting itself inside the Canadian innovation eco-system through some key investments and a new engineering lab.

Last week the chipmaker announced it is setting up an engineering lab in Toronto, focused on developing a new discrete GPU product by 2020. Earlier this year it announced an investment in Toronto-based cloud platform LegUp Computing Inc. In June 2017, it made an investment in Element AI, a Montreal-based firm that seeks to help businesses integrate AI into their processes. That was part of a record-breaking $135 million Series A round at the time.

Intel is also a partner in the federal government-funded Supercluster – a group of private firms, academic institutions, and venture capital firms – SCALE AI (Supply Chains and Logistics Excellence AI).

At it’s “Intel Experience Day” on Thursday, Intel Canada Country Manager Denis Gaudreault said these moves fed into the California-based firm’s new data-centric strategy. In Canada, Intel wants to help organizations ranging from small Mom & Pop shops to larger enterprise and public sector adopt new technologies and find ways to put data to work.

“Data is the new oil,” Gaudreault said. “We want to be a key contributor in how that will create new business models.”

As for the investments it’s made, Intel looks for alignment in strategy, the Country Manager says. Its funneled a lot of capital into the AI ecosystem globally – announcing in September 2017 that it had put more than $1 billion into this pot – because it believes AI will transform business.

Shannon Poulin, VP of Sales and Marketing, Intel Corp.
Intel is celebrating 50 years of history in 2018. Shannon Poulin, VP of sales and marketing at Intel, says the future will be about data.

Its recent investments made in Canada should help it play that role here, Gaudreault says. For example, since Element AI is going into businesses to help deploy AI solutions, it could tap Intel hardware to attack that mandate. Intel has several CPU products that are being used to deliver AI applications today such as Xeon CPUs and FPGA (field programmable gate array) processors.

“Working with them, they know what Intel is doing and they will use it with their customers and that will bring us more business,” he says.

As for LegUp, the firm makes FPGA processors, which can be reprogrammed to better suit different functions. Typically, Intel CPUs are baked-in to one set of instructions that the operating system uses to do the math for all a computer’s needs. FPGA chips can be better tuned to a specific purpose, like AI.

With LegUp, “there’s no microcode, there’s no software at all,” Gaudreault says. “You can put whatever you want on it and it does what it needs to do.”

For the new lab in Toronto, the country manager credits an investment that a previous Ontario government made to develop talent around developing graphic processors. That’s paid off and now there’s a hot bed of talent for Intel to hire up and put to work.

“The people we hire have PhDs and advanced skils,” he says. “Toronto can offer that.”

He estimates the lab will hire around a couple of hundred workers in the years to come.

Another Intel executive hammered home the message about pivoting to a data-centric business as well. Shannon Poulin, vice-president of sales and marketing, gave a presentation putting the new approach in context of Intel’s 50-year history.

“This is one of the businesses that’s helping us grow beyond the PC,” he said.

And growing it is. In 2013, Intel had no data-centric business revenue. In 2018 it will be in the billions.