Techstars hosts first AI Demo Day in Montreal

Bruno Morency 2

Techstars Montreal AI revealed the nine companies graduating from its first accelerator program at its Demo Day at the Théâtre St-Denis in Montreal on Wednesday.

Selected from hundreds of applicants, the cohort came from industries ranging from agribusiness to pharmaceuticals to fashion, with many participants hailing from outside Canada – demonstrating both the broad potential of artificial intelligence and the allure of Montreal for AI startups.

“This city has become a strong magnet for AI startups,” said Techstars Montreal managing director Bruno Morency. Drawn to the magnet are companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Samsung, and Thales, which have respectively invested in AI labs in the city.

Techstars first announced it was entering Montreal in March 2018, with a focus on AI. The city is a hotbed for artificial intelligence, with pioneers and evangelists like Yoshua Bengio and companies like Element AI leading the charge to make Montreal AI a global epicentre.

“We have something special about AI in this town,” said Sylvain Carle of Real Ventures, which partnered with Techstars to launch the accelerator. “It’s because of researchers. At least one of the startups you see on stage tonight will be an international success, an outlier. It could take only three or four years to become huge if we benchmark them to that giant, purple AI rocket ship that we have in Montreal.”

In the interim, Techstars participants will try to take what they’ve learned in the accelerator and put it to good use. “Techstars has provided us with significant opportunities to grow our business in ways we never expected,” said Mark Doble, CEO of Aleksei. “Throughout the first month of the program, we met with roughly 80 mentors, all with tremendous experience in business and AI. They all questioned our go-to-market strategy, technology development strategy, and business models. In some cases, the feedback was difficult to hear. These mentors were able to tell us things our mothers and friends were too afraid to say. When we heard the same critiques over and over, we knew we had to change something. Alexsei is in a significantly stronger position after having gone through Techstars, to have a dramatic impact on the automation technologies being adopted by the legal industry.”

Graduating companies included:

Alexsei: an AI legal research company that searches a database of more than a million documents for answers to legal queries, and provides a summary that’s reviewed by an actual lawyer before being given to the customer. The goal is not to replace lawyers, but to power lawyers, said CEO Mark Doble.

Arctic Fox AI: an Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative diseases diagnosis system that analyzes MRIs and generates a report, which integrates patient data, condition, genetics, and molecular markers to identify the best personal treatment. The Montreal-based company is anticipating regulatory clearance in clinics in the third quarter of 2019.

chef Connie: a conversational cooking assistant that can answer questions about a recipe as useres make it. Through a smart speaker. Monetization is subscription-based at $9.99 a month, and through links to Amazon Fresh in the US to order ingredients online, explained CEO Aidan Nulman.

Crescendo: AI-powered diversity training based on employees’ unique interests and learning needs, delivered through Slack and Microsoft Teams. Through the platform, users receive carefully timed, personalized, vetted content, both from online sources and content created in partnership with creators.

“I fundamentally believe that Crescendo will change the way teams function together,” said Techstars Montreal AI mentor and robotics product Manager at Google X Carly Gloge.

“Thirty-six percent of employee turnover is caused by unfair treatment. That costs tech companies $16 billion a year in turnover,” said CEO Daniel D’Souza. “But most employees forget everything they learn in diversity training within two days. Crescendo measures how their behaviour changes over time.”

So far, the company has an 80 percent opt-in rate, and has started working with seven companies, including Wealthsimple.

EatSleepRide: a social, tracking and safety platform for motorcycle riders that provides a safety score to insurance companies based on ride data and alerts the police in case of an accident.

Green Eye Technology: a precise, selective herbicide application for agricultural operations. Instead of having a farmer spray an entire field, Israeli company Green Eye Technology uses cameras to identify and spray only weeds using the largest proprietary data set of weeds in the world, said CEO and co-founder Nadav Bocher.

This can reduce costs up to 90 percent for the farmer and soil and water contamination from herbicides for the consumer, he added.

Intelistyle: an AI fashion stylist/chatbot that styles a user’s own clothes and suggests what to buy next. Not many retailers can afford to have 10 or 20 staff on the floor for styling advice (solicited or not).

Intelistyle crawls the web collecting thousands of outfits to “extract the essence of style,” said founder and CEO Kostas Koukoravas, taking into account your skin tone, hair, figure, and personal style. “The app’s current conversion rate is two times better than on a retailer’s website.” Users can also take photos of their own clothes to digitize their wardrobes.

InVivo AI: An accurate toxicity screening tool for early-stage drug development. This AI tool aims to save drug companies years and huge amounts of money in their pre-clinical drug development. It simulates manual tests by grouping the results of 95 million pre-clinical experiments. The company uses a database of 25,000 pre-clinical experiments – 10 times more than its leading competitor, said co-founder Daniel Cohen.

ThermoAI: a combustion-optimization system for power plants and manufacturers. The company is already working with real data from live plants of five multinationals to monitor variables including composition of the fuel, humidity, and weather changes that can affect the combustion efficiency.

Using that data, it provides operators easy-to-read reports in the form of a dashboard. While it doesn’t automate the actual plants, the operators are able to improve efficiency, saving plants huge amounts of money while reducing carbon emissions.

“Power plants only operate at 33 percent efficiency. Two-thirds of energy in the system is wasted,“ said CEO Aidan Livingston. “ThermoAI is already finding three to five percent increases in efficiency. It’s like taking 288,000 cars off the road for each one percent increase in efficiency.”

The tenth company that participated in the Techstars Montreal AI accelerator was Mathpix, but according to Techstars’ Morency, the Optical Character Recognition API for math learning and grading apps decided to change direction towards the end of the program and didn’t feel it was the best time to pitch.

Amie Watson

Amie Watson

Amie Watson is a Montreal-based freelance writer and television contributor. Her work has appeared in publications including The National Post, Montreal Gazette and enRoute Magazine. She's also the founder of FORK THAT, a mobile app that's like Tinder for restaurants.