Early-stage venture capital (VC) firm Staircase Ventures has made one of its first bets on Montréal-based artificial intelligence (AI) startup Sibli, which today announced $6 million CAD ($4.5 million USD) in seed funding.
Sibli, which applies AI to investment research, is one of the first four investments that Toronto’s Staircase—led by former Real Ventures managing partner Janet Bannister—has made since closing its first VC fund in September.
“Our specialty is really in using [generative] AI to push the investment research process forward.”Alik Sokolov, Sibli
Speaking with BetaKit, Bannister said she was particularly drawn to the core technical skills of Sibli’s team, as well as its depth of understanding of the asset management market.
“Asset management is definitely a vertical where we see huge potential for AI to change how decisions are being made and change how people analyze data,” Bannister said.
“Yet, at the same time, there’s really a huge opportunity for a new player to emerge within that space, and we believe that Sibli is very well positioned to be that winner.”
Sibli’s all-equity seed funding round, which closed in mid-December, was led by Staircase, with participation from The Group Ventures, Burst Capital, MaRS IAF, and other undisclosed investors.
Initially known as Responsibli, recently rebranded Sibli was founded in 2020 by CEO Alik Sokolov. At the time, Sokolov was publishing academic research on deep learning capabilities and investment management with the University of Toronto’s financial risk management research unit, RiskLab.
Sokolov’s research primarily focused on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing, which prioritizes companies that adhere to sustainable and responsible business practices. He decided to launch Responsibli in 2021 to help institutional asset managers get deeper insights from their ESG research, or what the startup describes as the “information advantage.”
“Our specialty is really in using [generative] AI to push the investment research process forward and enable the kind of insight that wasn’t really possible to automate before, but with a high degree of quality and reliability,” he added.
Sokolov explained that in the investment space, asset managers typically engage in two types of research: fundamental research, which involves analyzing a company’s value based on financial statements, management, and market position; and quantitative research, which relies on models to identify investment opportunities based on historical data and trends.
According to Sokolov, Sibli’s tool assists asset managers with both. The startup uses a combination of natural language processing and generative AI models to process vast amounts of unstructured data, find relevant insights, and deliver them to institutional asset managers.
Following the launch and subsequent rise in demand for the product, Sokolov and his team recognized that the product’s applicability extended beyond ESG investing to encompass a broader range of investment areas.
“We built out a lot of tooling that was very generalizable, especially because as we were building the company, improvements in foundational models and large language models allowed us to really improve how much we could customize the research that we were producing,” Sokolov said.
In addition to announcing its financing round, the startup is also revealing it has changed its name to Sibli in keeping with this broadened focus. “It’s nice to keep the connection to the original name, but at the same time, it also does speak to our capabilities having been generalized beyond that initial use case of ESG,” Sokolov added.
The startup works with institutional customers across a wide range of asset classes, including fixed income, real estate, private equity, and venture capital, among others. Sibli claims to be working with “top-tier” asset managers, including some of Canada’s eight largest pension funds, known as the “Maple 8”,” though the startup declined to disclose the names of its customers.
With the new funding, Sokolov said Sibli plans to accelerate its growth by adding to its currently 11-person team, as well as increasing computing power to improve the training and inference of its models.
Sibli is one of Staircase’s first four investments. The firm also led seed rounds for three other Canadian tech startups in 2023, including Calgary-based FinTech startup Fillip Fleet, which announced a $5-million fundraise in October; Toronto AI drug discovery platform Biossil; and Toronto-based marketing automation and leasing startup Rhenti.
Staircase Ventures was launched in April 2023 by Bannister, six months after stepping back from the managing partner role at Real Ventures. Staircase completed its first close of its fund in March and a final close in September—a notably short time especially given the current fundraising environment for startups and VCs alike—exceeding its original target of $30 million.
With Staircase, Bannister said she is looking to have an “unparalleled focus on founder development,” which includes providing various resources to its portfolio founders, including executive coaching, a peer support group, a health coach, a personal financial advisor, and a family stipend.
Sokolov is particularly pleased to have Staircase Ventures lead Sibli’s seed round. “It’s been awesome to witness [Staircase] practice what they preach in terms of being a very good partner for us, providing the kind of support that they said they would,” he said, adding the startup “couldn’t have had a better lead in Canada.”
Feature image courtesy Sibli.