The first Canadian recipient of an investment from Google’s Gradient Ventures says Canada “has a strong foundation” of artificial intelligence (AI) companies that could see more investments from the fund.
Toronto-based industrial AI startup Canvass Analytics is a little more than two-years-old and works with industrial and manufacturing operations. CEO Humera Malik says the company has helped more than 20 clients so far.
“We go in and plug in and help our customers to automate these processes, to basically future-proof manufacturing or factories,” Malik said.
For example, Malik explained certain industries like automotive manufacturers have many processes to create a product for their clients. She said running the process requires humans and some robots performing several functions. A human operator would go in and set different parameters for the process and output, but errors are usually only found afterward.
Malik added the cost of finding those errors after the fact is high and there is a higher rate of scrap that is produced, which results in not being able to fulfill a customer’s order in time and losing money.
Canvass Analytics’ AI technology automates the process so that errors are caught in real-time.
“You can have an operator set the parameters, but anytime anything falls out of spec [the AI] tells them in advance before it impacts the quality of the [product],” Malik explained, adding that the operator would have knowledge of the product’s quality throughout the process.
“They’re producing better quality output and that way there is less scrap being produced…a higher grade of the product that they end up using,” she said.
Malik said working with Gradient Ventures, Google’s new AI-focused venture fund, is the start of a “new journey.”
“What we are looking to do now is working very closely with Gradient Ventures…on how to actually leverage some of their strengths and [the strengths] of AI,” Malik said, adding that it was an honour to get the lead investment.
When asked if she was concerned that Gradient Ventures could have the upper hand, she said there tends to be a “misconception” that the lead investor will come in and dictate.
“What you bring is mutually agreed upon…people that you think can help you go from point A to point B, and then point B to point C. We are just in the early stages of being on this journey and we partnered with [Gradient Ventures] because…they have the credibility that is coming from the world’s largest AI company, so they have the strength and experience of the foundation of AI.
“It’s not about someone who is going to come in and take over, it’s a partnership,” Malik said.
Malik’s leadership qualities and the success of her company were some of the reasons why Ankit Jain, a founding partner of Gradient Ventures, decided to become a lead investor.
Join said that while it may be Gradient Venture’s first lead investment in Canada, it wouldn’t be their last and it will be looking for more opportunities.
Jain said Malik’s company was able to collect data from companies and created a “scalable software platform” that helps companies from saving a lot of cost in its output stage.
“At the early stages of a company we are really looking for two major things, the first is the founder market fit, whether the founder is the right person to both execute in a given market, and the second is whether the early signs of the product is working,” Jain said. “With Canvass Analytics we saw both of these things.”
Jain said Gradient Ventures looks at the broader category of industrial IoT and in their rounds of which company to invest in he said they looked at a plethora of companies.
He suggested that after spending a few months in Toronto he was able to see the growth of AI and that there are many opportunities for more investments.
In Startup Genome’s 2018 Global Startup Ecosystem Report, CEO JF Gauthier said Canada was very well positioned in all sub-sectors of IT growth. The report said several cities were punching above their weight class when it came to AI, advanced manufacturing, and robotics.
Jain said through Gradient Ventures, its portfolio of members have access to certain services like their Startup Rotation Program where senior members of Google can take a “technical sabbatical” and rotate out of their role at Google and work for a portfolio company.
“Early stage companies having access to this kind of talent can be a true game-changer in enabling them to get to the next level of the company and creating solutions that really allow them to compete,” Jain said.