Aifred Health sole Canadian team among 10 semi-finalists of global IBM Watson competition

Montreal-based Aifred Health has been named one of the top 10 semi-finalists of the global IBM Watson AI XPrize. The startup is the final Canadian team remaining in the multi-year competition.

“We have the chance to show the world what we can do.”

“Being in this competition up until this level, and being a team that started with the competition, there’s an intense feeling of accomplishment, and pride and, gratefulness that we have the chance to show the world what we can do,” said David Benrimoh, Aifred’s chief science officer.

The AI XPrize is a four-year competition with three judging rounds and yearly milestones. In February, the field will narrow to the top three semi-finalists, with the winner set to be announced in April.

Aifred, founded by four McGill University graduates, is using artificial intelligence to help people living with depression find the right treatments more quickly.

The company built an app that asks patients a series of standardized questionnaires on a weekly basis, which gives clinicians access to more data on their patients’ ongoing health than they typically would have. The app then uses AI to help clinicians determine personalized treatment methods for patients.

In the fall, Aifred trialled its software with 20 doctors, which Benrimoh said netted valuable feedback and data that taught the team about how their product is being used, and how to “maximize positive use of the app.” Aifred currently has clinical pilots of its tool, without the AI component, running at three Quebec hospitals; the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, as well as the Centre intégré de santé et des services sociaux de l’Outaouais in Gatineau.

Aifred co-founder Sonia Israel in Taipei for MIT Industrial Liaison Program conference, July, 2019. Source Aifred.

The company is also recruiting for its first six-month trial with patients, which will involve the use of AI. Benrimoh said Aifred will need 10 doctors and between 30 and 40 patients.

“[Doctors] are already telling us it’s saved them some time and patients are quite enthusiastic at being able to use this to help clinicians understand what they’re experiencing,” Benrimoh said.

Before being named a semi-finalist, Aifred was ranked as the XPrize’s top competitor out of 34 teams. It also won last year’s milestone competition, which came with a $35,000 prize. More recently, the company raised a $490,000 pre-seed round in late August, from Anges Québec, other undisclosed angels in Ontario and England, as well as a consortium from MEDTEQ.

Prior to the top 10 round, there were five Canadian startups in contention for the prize — Aifred; Quebec City-based AITera, which was using AI to improve remediation efforts; Ottawa’s Learn Leap Fly, which used machine learning to help teach children reading, writing, and basic math; UOttawa AI/Mindeavour, which developed an AI-powered navigation app for visually impaired people; and beekeeping startup Nectar, from Montreal.

The other nine remaining semi-finalists include Clean Robotics from Pittsburgh, which is creating robotic trash cans that use AI and computer vision to sort waste into the correct stream; Element Inc., a team from New York City and India that’s building a biometric recognition solution for children under age five; MachineGenes from Queensland, Australia, which is using machine learning and advanced AI to recommend the best insulin dosage for people with Type 1 diabetes, and help manage their blood glucose levels; and Zzapp Malaria from Tel Aviv, which is using AI to fight malaria by analyzing online databases and satellite data to build intervention strategies for individual communities.

“These 10 teams are developing technologies that will completely change the game in their respective fields,” said Amir Banifatemi, XPrize’s general manager for innovation and growth. “We’re looking forward to seeing these solutions in the field with the hope they will change humanity for the better.”

Image source Aifred via Twitter

Kelsey Rolfe

Kelsey Rolfe

Kelsey Rolfe is a freelance journalist based in Montreal.