Above: The Element AI executive team (top left to bottom right): Jeremy Barnes (Chief Architect), Gabriel Duford (SVP Dev & Tech), Nicolas Chapados (CSO), Philippe Beaudoin (SVP Research), Jean-Francois Gagne (CEO), Anne Martel (SVP Operations), Yoshua Bengio (Board Member, Co-Founder), JS Cournoyer (Board Member, Co-Founder)
Element AI , a company that builds artificial intelligence (AI) tools for enterprises, has raised CAD $200 million (USD $151 million) in a series B round of funding from a host of existing and new investors, including Gouvernement du Québec, Data Collective (DCVC), Hanwha Asset Management, BDC, Real Ventures, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), and McKinsey & Company.
Founded in 2016, Element AI develops AI software “that helps people work smarter,” according to its marketing blurb. In real terms, so far this has effectively meant that Element AI has partnered with enterprises that are looking to use AI but who may not have had the required expertise. It connects businesses with machine learning experts in-house and elsewhere, for example, to help solve specific problems a business may have.
Earlier this year, Element AI officially launched its first products for enterprise customers in the form of “decision-making automation tools.” Using computer vision, optical character recognition (OCR), and other AI mechanisms, Element AI promises to enable machines to “read” documents, for example, or answer workers’ questions about internal operations using natural language queries.
The Montréal-based startup has now raised CAD $340 million (USD $257 million) since its inception, including its large $102 million series A round back in 2017. Microsoft’s venture capital (VC) arm also invested an undisclosed amount in Element AI back in 2016.
Among Element AI’s array of cofounders is CEO Jean-François Gagné, and esteemed Canadian computer scientist Yoshua Bengio , who won a Turing award last year for his work in deep learning.
The business of AI
With another $151 million in the bank, Element AI said that it plans to “accelerate the deployment and commercialization of solutions that meet customer needs for the operationalization of AI,” according to a press release issued by the company.
While AI is rarely out the headlines these days, often for controversial reasons such as the growing use of privacy-thwarting facial recognition systems , the use of AI in industry holds a great deal of potential in terms of leveraging the true power of automation and machine intelligence in a commercial setting. The impact this could have on employment is another issue altogether, of course.
A number of companies are working to bring AI and automation to the enterprise, one of which is heavily-funded UiPath which creates robotic process automation (RPA) tools to automate laborious and repetitive tasks in the workplace. The company recently claimed that RPA and AI will be commoditized productivity tools within five years .
In reality, AI is still in its relative infancy, despite any cool and clever applications that emerge in the consumer realm — and that is why investors are backing companies such as Element AI, as they look to solve real problems in industry.
“Operationalizing AI is currently the industry’s toughest challenge, and few companies have been successful at taking proofs-of-concepts out of the lab, embedding them strategically in their operations, and delivering actual business impact,” Gagné said. “We are proud to be working with our new partners, who understand this challenge well, and to leverage each other’s expertise in taking AI solutions to market.”