Microsoft has announced it will double the size of its Montreal research lab over the next two years.
Once the work is complete, 75 skilled engineers will work at the facility under the leadership of new director Geoffrey Gordon, a renowned AI expert.
Renowned #AI expert Geoffrey Gordon, newly named @MSRMontreal lab director, will lead an expansion in broad #ArtificialIntelligence research in #Montreal https://t.co/hu4D6ognHk pic.twitter.com/ta7qOWqtph
— Microsoft Research (@MSFTResearch) January 24, 2018
Worldwide AI hub
While at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella discussed the company’s investments in Canada with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In a news post, Microsoft acknowledged Montreal is becoming a “worldwide hub” for developments in AI and machine learning.
Microsoft is following several other major tech companies in stepping up its presence in the Montreal AI scene. Companies including Facebook and Samsung have recently opened new facilities in the city as it becomes one of the top global locations to source AI talent.
Microsoft said its expanded research lab will develop foundational AI systems that progress the fundamentals of the technology. This work will then help to build new Microsoft products for mainstream consumer and commercial use. Gordon’s background in both foundational and applied AI will enable the lab to work on a broad range of technologies for incorporation into Microsoft services.
“We want to be doing the research that will be infusing AI into Microsoft products today and tomorrow, and Geoff’s research really spans that,” said Jennifer Chayes, a Microsoft Research managing director and technical fellow.
AI that plans
One area the lab will focus on is the development of AI with long-term planning. AI currently struggles to combine actions into a logical plan for future execution. Although modern AI is adept at certain tasks, such as computer vision and voice recognition, it’s less capable of combining inputs, reasoning and then chaining different outcomes in response.
Microsoft’s already been working on developing new ways for AI to handle complex tasks. The additional resources available at the larger lab should enable new breakthroughs to be made in the field. This will help create smarter AI agents and information processors that have similar thought processes to humans.
With Microsoft as the latest company to invest in Montreal, Canada’s AI credentials are growing yet stronger. The company was welcomed by Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and economic development.
“I am pleased that our government’s investment and skills continues to position Canada as a world-leading destination for AI companies and impressive researchers like Geoff Gordon,” he said.
Setting Canada up for long-term success is about talent and collaboration
Minister Navdeep Bains talks to DX Journal about Canada’s innovation economy
Canada’s $1.26-billion Strategic Innovation Fund is being used to provide investment for everything from aerial firefighting technology to satellites for the global shipping industry. The fund is just one of the ways the Trudeau government is emphasizing innovation and the new digital economy in its economic policies.
In an interview with DX Journal at CIX 2018, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, gave his perspective on the continuing efforts of the Government of Canada to support innovation across the country.
Navdeep Bains on how Canada is driving innovation
“The government really understands that we have a very special moment, that Canada is looked at as a leader when it comes to innovation,” Bains said. “Part of that success is attributed to the fact that we’re investing in people. We’re really focussed on not only developing incredible Canadian talent, but how we have access to global talent as well.”
That special moment is not only helping promote successful Canadian startups and businesses – it’s also encouraging technology companies such as Amazon and Salesforce to increase their footprint north of the U.S. border.
Canada is also getting recognition for its innovation and technology ecosystem, as evidenced by the recent announcement that Montreal will host an upcoming G7 conference on AI technology, as part of the larger Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) conference. The event is the largest congregation around AI and machine learning in the world.
Navdeep Bains on private and public sectors driving innovation
Bains said the focus for him and the federal government is placing a priority on people, with specific attention to diversity.
“We’re making investments in education – in lifelong learning through coding, and really leveraging immigration,” Bains said. “It’s about tech adoption. It’s about commercialization. As we invest in talent, we’re also very focused on making sure that companies have the ability to scale up.”
In order to support scaleups, Bains said the government is focused on providing access to the best technology and enabling commercialization and speed-to-market.
“That’s really the focal point,” said Bains. “How can we help companies deal with talent and people? How can we reskill and upskill Canadians? And how can really help the technology aspect? This combined with a culture of collaboration where everyone is working together is making Canada an innovation leader.”
Canadian startups and technology companies are a focal point for the Canadian’s government’s innovation approach. The federal government recently made a $25-million investment into the Creative Destruction Lab, founded at the University of Toronto, which it hopes will create as many as 22,000 jobs as well as help accelerate and support startups and AI-based companies.
Navdeep Bains on setting up long-term winning conditions for tech and innovation
Bains stressed that talent is key to future development in Canada, and cited the federal government’s recent budget as proof that the country’s resources are being directed toward the education and collaboration.
According to Bains, the government’s focus on people will have lasting importance.
“I really think that’s a key turning point for us to demonstrate success for decades to come,” he said.
Canada’s next big act is training scaleups
By Jack Derricourt & Chris Hogg
The Canadian technology landscape is booming.
Canadian companies took in $2.5 billion in funding in the first half of 2018, the strongest first half since 2000. Corporates have announced large-scale investment plans to invest in innovation and digital technology (CAE recently pegged $1 billion for the efforts) and post-secondary institutions are breaking ground to house future generations of talent (the University of Toronto is building a 14-storey building to be completed by 2021).
The Canadian technology landscape is ripening and readying for an influx and growth of more mature, internationally-focused ventures.
While scaleups make up less than five percent of Canadian companies, they create half of all new jobs in the country.
On September 26 in Toronto, Elevate ScaleUp will seek to provide helpful insights into the problems facing scaling companies. Presented by CIBC and Osler, the event features startup veterans sharing their experiences.
DX Journal spoke with Julia Kassam, Managing Director, CIBC Innovation Banking, to find out more about the next big act in Canada’s innovation space.
DX Journal: With innovation ecosystems forming across Canadian cities, what excites you the most for startups in Canada?
Julia Kassam: From coast to coast, we’ve hit our stride as a community. The Canadian startup ecosystem has never been stronger and it is launching Canada into the global spotlight. Success stories about scaling companies of all sizes, in different industries, are generating the attention of investors and aspiring entrepreneurs. We are gaining a reputation for being diverse, collaborative and competitive.
This means that Canada is no longer an occasional destination, but a critical location for international investors to regularly visit, and for global brands to establish roots and drive their own corporate growth.
DX Journal: Canadian policymakers have made strengthening the venture capital sector a priority, with the launch of Venture Capital Action Plan (VCAP) and Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative (VCCI) underway. What does that mean for startups and scaleups?
Kassam: After years of lobbying by the Canadian Venture and Private Equity Association (CVCA), the previous government took our sector’s advice and launched VCAP as an arms-length funding strategy. VCAP worked as designed; venture capital funds benefited from the capital raised and invested in several early-stage companies. The new funds that should be raised under VCCI will capitalize on that success and strengthen the sustainability of Canada’s venture capital ecosystem.
What this means for entrepreneurs is that the federal government recognizes that VCAP was an appropriate initiative, and that to fuel the innovation economy, companies need a robust venture capital ecosystem to move from startup mode to scaleup mode.
It’s a really strategic and exciting initiative because later-stage capital will help accelerate the growth for companies who need to overcome commercialization hurdles, expand into new markets and compete on a global scale.
DX Journal: Many startups struggle to scale because they don’t have the right senior talent. What is your sense of how well positioned Canada is with experienced leaders?
Kassam: Although Canada has established a reputation for developing world-class academics and innovators, we do need to attract experienced executive talent. Everything moves at an accelerated pace in a scaleup, and the business will bend and flex in ways it never has. Canada needs more leaders who know what it takes to grow globally and ensure scaleups are well-equipped to navigate and accelerate growth.
One big benefit Canada has that helps here is as a result of our proactive immigration policy – the ability for Canadian scaleups to attract skilled talent is getting easier; our country realizes that to keep pace with scaleups, concentrated efforts are needed to establish Canada as a global technology powerhouse.
DX Journal: Canada has also been able to attract tech titans such as Google to open up offices in Toronto. What role do they play in the scaleup economy?
Kassam: They serve as training ground, but also as a competitor for talent. In the best case, people learn what it takes to be part of a leading innovator while being trained by experienced executive talent at the local divisions of firms such as Cisco or Google. For scaling companies, the opportunity to pilot their innovation becomes a realistic opportunity which can flourish into a partnership that may lead to an acquisition. A big opportunity that emerges as a result of large tech companies choosing to set-up an office in Canada is an acceleration of human capital development for the ecosystem.
What we are also seeing more of is that global innovators are setting up their R&D centres in Canada. A great example this summer was Samsung announcing an AI Centre located within MaRS, led by a Toronto-based academic. Again, another opportunity for scaleups to be close to the heart of global innovation. That is huge potential waiting to be unleashed.
DX Journal: How is the Canadian startup ecosystem helping to train talent?
Kassam: Serial entrepreneurs and investors share mistakes and success stories which help shape and accelerate scaleups through collective learning. What truly makes the Canadian tech ecosystem unique is our mindset to foster entrepreneurial spirit; and a great example of how we do that is by bringing the startup community together.
Elevate, Canada’s largest tech festival and one that CIBC Innovation Banking is sponsoring, is the perfect example of creating the right information and network opportunities so that we can collectively benefit from the existing momentum in Canada’s innovation ecosystem and drive our entrepreneurial culture forward.
DX Journal: What’s the next step for the Canadian scaleup story?
Kassam: Canadian scaleups will continue to tackle the unique challenges that come with scaling a business; however, they will think in a global context earlier than ever before. Scaleups need to strategically choose the right capital partners for their growth – ones that open doors to new markets. There needs to be an emphasis on attracting top talent earlier in the growth cycle to help drive international perspectives and opportunities.
To hear more from industry leaders who have scaled real businesses (and have the scars to prove it), get a ticket for Elevate ScaleUp, happening September 26, 2018 in Toronto. Presented by CIBC Innovation Banking and Osler, the event will provide real insights from entrepreneurs and tech veterans who have spent years in the field, on everything from hiring, to financing, to distribution.
DX Journal covers the impact of digital transformation (DX) initiatives worldwide across multiple industries.
Bumble launches fund for investing in female founders
The popular dating and social networking app Bumble announced a new initiative Wednesday that will see it investing in women-led businesses.
Announced via a blog post from Bumble HQ, the new fund will focus on early-stage investments to women-led startups, particularly those run by women of colour and women from other traditionally underrepresented groups.
“The gender gap in venture capital is staggering, particularly for women founders of color. (B)umble, a tech company (with) an 85% female workforce, wants to be part of the solution, wrote Whitney Wolfe Herd, the CEO of Bumble, on Twitter. “Today we launch Bumble Fund to invest in women ignored by the establishment.”
The point of the fund is to help those founders raise capital for their ventures.
According to Forbes, Bumble has committed over $1 million so far, and says it will invest anywhere between $5,000 and $250,000 in the companies it selects as part of the fund.
— Lolita Taub (@LolitaTaub) August 15, 2018
According to the Bumble blog post, the company isn’t stopping at the five commitments they’ve listed — they’re continuing to look for businesses to support, and recommend that interested parties download the Bumble app and get set up with the networking platform within, Bumble Bizz.
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