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Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec is earmarking $250-million for new investments in growing artificial-intelligence companies to help promote that emerging sector of Quebec tech.

The Caisse’s new AI Fund is for Quebec businesses passed the startup stage, with a "proven track record in artificial intelligence” and “have developed demonstrably sound business models and shown a capacity for continued strong growth.” They will need to have a well-established management team, the Caisse says.

The Caisse has made a number of AI investments in companies in the startup phase; The new fund is designed for those companies’ next stage of growth. The Caisse says the fund will make deals in the mould of recent investments in companies such as Hopper, TrackTik and Breather, all of which were made in conjunction with outside funds.

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The Caisse will house the fund in its Venture Capital and Technology team, which managed $1.3-billion in assets at year-end 2018. All told, the Caisse closed the year with $309.5-billion in net assets, with $44.3-billion invested in 775 companies in Quebec’s private sector,

The new fund is one of a number of recent AI efforts by the Caisse. Charles Émond, Executive Vice-President, Quebec and Global Strategic Planning, said in a statement that the pension fund needs to ramp up the financial and development support it provides AI businesses through the various stages of their growth, since “Montreal is emerging as a global beacon of excellence in artificial intelligence.”

In late 2018, the Caisse said it has partnered with Mila, the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, to create an incubator called CDPQ Space | Axis IA. The incubator, located at Mila, will house nine startups trying to commercialize their AI technology. NextAI, a program that provides mentoring, education and access to capital for AI entrepreneurs, has moved its Montreal office into Espace CDPQ.

The nine companies, each of which will spend a year in the incubator: Paladin AI, whose product will train flight crews, technicians and pilots; InVivo AI, Cognitive Chem and Artic Fox AI, which all have health-care applications; UEAT, ENKIDOO and Mnubo, whose solutions are for retail and manufacturing companies to use in logistics and analysis; Human First, which has technology for customer-support chat; and NOTIO Technologies, which targets cyclists who want to improve their performance through data analysis.

Over the years, the Caisse has placed funds with a dozen venture-capital firms with a focus on AI technology, including BrightSpark, iNovia and Real Ventures. Caisse spokesman Jean-Benoît Houde says the Caisse will continue to place money in VC funds.

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