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U.S. software firm Aspen Technology Inc. has bought Montreal internet-of-things startup Mnubo Inc. for $102-million and will build a global artificial-intelligence hub in the city around the purchased company’s 60-plus employees.

The deal represents one of the first takeovers of a company in Canada’s teeming AI sector that has moved beyond research and early-stage development to selling commercial, AI-based software to customers globally, said Jean-Francois Marcoux, managing partner with White Star Capital, an early investor in Mnubo. “Over time we’ll build companies that are bigger and bigger in terms of outcomes.”

The acquisition was one of two announced on Friday by Aspen, a publicly traded provider of asset-optimization software based in Bedford, Mass. Aspen also bought Britain-based software firm Sabisu Ltd. for an undisclosed sum.

Adding Mnubo will help the U.S. company accelerate its move to offer next-generation tools for its industrial customers that use AI and machine learning, Aspen said in a news release. Mnubo’s AI-driven IoT expertise, Sabisu’s visualization and Aspen’s “deep domain expertise” will help its customers drive greater value from their data, Aspen CEO Antonio Pietri said.

“It’s a very good outcome,” said Whitney Rockley, managing partner of McRock Capital, a Toronto-based venture-capital fund that backed Mnubo early on. “They’ve been able to demonstrate their analytics platform is relevant to a number of different customers” in a range of industries. “Now, they get to turbocharge the platform with a customer base and join a market-maker and really commercialize this and take it to a whole other level.” Aspen bought another McRock-financed company, New Brunswick-based RtTech Software Inc., last year and met Mnubo management through the venture-capital firm.

Mnubo co-founder and CEO Fred Bastien said he had subsequently spoken with Aspen management about partnership opportunities and wasn’t looking to sell when the U.S. company made an offer in April. “We were still on a growth path” after raising $16.5-million early last year in a venture capital deal led by German insurance giant Munich Re Group. But “the more we talked the more the synergy was clear,” he said.

Mnubo was founded in 2012 and established itself by collecting data from networked sensors mounted on industrial machines and analyzing it using AI. It’s a crowded market that is expected to keep growing at a brisk rate. Global spending on IoT technology is estimated at US$745-billion this year, a 15.6-per-cent increase from 2018, and is forecast to climb to more than US$1-trillion by 2022, according to market intelligence firm International Data Corp.

Despite the growing global interest, few IoT startups have reached billion-dollar valuations and have typically sold out to technology, industrial or agriculture giants for hundreds of millions of dollars. Those include last year’s purchase of Calgary-based IoT firm Pure Technologies Ltd. for C$509-million by U.S. water-technology firm Xylem Inc., General Electric Co.’s 2016 purchase of Vancouver-based Bit Stew Systems Inc. for US$153-million and Siemens AG’s 2012 takeover of publicly traded RuggedCom Inc. of Concord, Ont., for C$440-million.

Mnubo’s roughly 40 large enterprise customers include heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment maker Johnson Controls International PLC, Hitachi Air Conditioning and agriculture supplier Grain Systems Inc. Its platform gathers data sent from sensors on its customers’ products and machines and learns from patterns over time to predict, for example, when machines will require maintenance, how to make soil-irrigation systems more effective or when home-alarm customers should be contacted to ensure they renew the service.

Mr. Bastien sold his previous startup, data management firm Blueslice Networks Inc. in 2010 for US$35-million to a U.S. telecom company that was later taken over by Oracle Corp. Mr. Bastien and his three Mnubo co-founders stayed on for a couple of years with Oracle and then won a multiyear, multimillion-dollar research contract from the Silicon Valley giant after leaving in 2012. The contract enabled them to self-fund the development of their software platform until they raised $6-million in venture funding from White Star and McRock in 2015.

With files from Jeff Jones

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