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Montreal tech startup Element AI to advise Korean fund

Element, co-founded by University of Montreal professor Yoshua Bengio (pictured), a pioneer in a field of AI known as “deep learning,” is not investing any money in the $45-million (U.S.) fund.


Hot Montreal artificial-intelligence startup Element AI has been tapped to advise a global AI fund managed by three Korean industrial giants.

Element, co-founded by University of Montreal professor Yoshua Bengio, a pioneer in a field of AI known as "deep learning," is not investing any money in the $45-million (U.S.) fund, which is bankrolled by Element investor Hanwha Corp., as well as South Korean conglomerates SK Telecom Co. Ltd. and Hyundai Motor Co. An Element spokeswoman said the initiative is "part of Element AI's existing mission to support the development of cutting-edge AI technology and business applications … and helps us to scale our expertise in a way that will help everyone in our ecosystem."

The fund will focus on startups specializing in AI-based commercial applications and infrastructure in the areas of autonomous vehicles, household robots, manufacturing, drones and hardware.

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Element AI, which recently recruited former IBM chief innovation officer Linda Bernardi to join as its chief product and strategy officer, now has more than 190 employees. The firm, led by serial entrepreneur Jean-François Gagné, closed one of the largest early-stage financings to date in the hot AI field, raising $102-million in June from some of the top names in the global tech sector, including Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Data Collective, tech giants Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp., China's Tencent Holdings Ltd., Fidelity Investments and Canadian backers Real Ventures, National Bank of Canada and Business Development Bank of Canada. Element's expansion plans include hiring dozens of AI scientists in Toronto, another hotbed of expertise thanks to the work of deep-learning "godfather" Geoffrey Hinton, a University of Toronto professor who also works for Google Inc.

The moves by Element AI come amid a hiring spree of top-ranked Canadian AI research scientists by giant U.S. tech companies, including Facebook, Google and Uber Technologies, and the sale of a handful of AI startups to the likes of Microsoft. The year-old Montreal startup's goal is to build a firm that can rival Silicon Valley giants by "democratizing" AI.

Thanks to a concentration of renowned researchers at its universities, Montreal has emerged as one of the world's AI hot spots, with Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Thales SA and Samsung Electronics' Advanced Institute of Technology all recently announcing plans to open AI labs in the city.

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