Toronto-based Modiface investing $4 million in university programs fostering AR and AI talent


As the federal government doubles down on AI in Canada, Toronto-based Modiface is hoping to support the Toronto ecosystem with a $4 million investment towards several initiatives supporting AI and AR research.

Modiface is dedicating $3.4 million in establishing an undergrad internship program at its company, with plans to hire 50 undergraduate students for 12 to 16-month paid positions focused on AR technologies. Applications are now open, and the first cohort will start in May 2017.

“I’ve been in academia all my life, so I understand the impact that investments can have in universities, and how training of students can have significant benefits,” said Parham Aarabi, founder and CEO of Modiface. Aarabi is a professor at the University of Toronto department of electrical and computer engineering, and for the past 10 years, his company has been developing AR technology for the beauty industry.

I think eventually success will be measured primarily by how many large companies are formed. – Parham Aarabi, founder and CEO of Modiface

The company will also be dedicating $450,000 to establishing a Modiface Research Internship, which will allow 10 graduate students to complete a research internship during their master’s or PhD studies in the next two years. The remaining $150,000 will be dedicated to funding academic research in deep learning, computer vision, and computer graphics. The money is coming from Modiface’s revenue; Aarabi said the company has been cash-flow positive for the past 10 years.

“I look at Silicon Valley where I did my grad studies, and it always was about the ecosystem. The stronger you make that ecosystem, the stronger the company becomes. The Googles and Facebooks have this race of being the biggest players and making the biggest investments in Silicon Valley,” said Aarabi. “We absolutely need to make investments for our own sake to make sure good and capable engineers are available to help ModiFace in the next two years and next two decades.”

Aarabi said it takes about a year to train a new grad in the latest AI and AR concepts, and while this investment is not about speeding up that highly-focused process, it will reach potential engineers earlier in their development, so when they graduate, they can start creating new solutions as quickly as possible.

While in the short-term Aarabi acknowledges that this benefits Modiface, in the longer-term, investments like this from both the private and public sector create more excitement in the AR industry, which Aarabi says is closely tied to AI. The program will initially focus on Toronto-based interns and researchers at the University of Toronto, with plans to expand the program’s over the coming months.

“I think initially everything helps, companies investing helps, government investing helps, and the more energy that can be put into AI — specifically in AR — it helps,” said Aarabi. “But I think eventually success will be measured primarily by how many large companies are formed…ultimately, that’s the metric we have to keep in mind.”

In March, the federal government announced that $125 million of the federal budget would go towards a national AI strategy, and shortly after unveiled the Vector Institute, which will receive between $40 million to $50 million from AI strategy.

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Freelance tech writer. Former BetaKit News Editor.

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