Corporate Canada’s secret weapons

Large corporations are looking for help from Canadian artificial intelligence startups

By Jason Kirby

To stay competitive, many large corporations are scrambling to incorporate artificial intelligence into their business models. But rather than developing applications themselves, they’re looking for help from nimble Canadian startups.

Dessa, formerly known as DeepLearni.ng, is one such exemplar. “Enterprises are struggling to do AI at scale,” says Stephen Piron, CEO and co-founder. To that end, Dessa’s platform, Foundations, offers a suite of tools companies can use to design and develop new AI applications. For example, it teamed with Scotiabank to develop a system that analyzes the behaviour of credit card customers to improve collections. The company raised $9 million in Series A financing in 2017 and plans to double its head count to 80 people by next spring.

Wysdom, meanwhile, offers AI-driven virtual assistant technology to companies to help their customers complete purchases, answer questions and avoid call centre wait times. Wysdom provides everything businesses need to put a virtual assistant in place—including an AI management team and massive question data sets so that it’s functional on day one. “This lets companies get up and running fast,” says Ian Collins, the company’s founder and CEO. Wysdom’s customers include major companies such as Rogers, Staples and Virgin Mobile. Since it launched in 2012, it has raised $12 million and now has about 60 employees in Toronto, with remote employees in the U.S. and U.K. too.

Toronto-based Flybits uses AI to help companies offer a “micro-personalized experience” to their customers. That means examining contextual cues about a customer’s purchase history, calendar or current activity (driving or waiting at the airport), and then delivering them relevant content. For instance, Flybits powers TD Bank’s TD for Me mobile concierge, which provides customized product offers, tips and other proximity-based service information. “Flybits helps organizations understand and communicate with their customer at a more granular level so that they can make more meaningful connections,” says founder and CEO Hossein Rahnama. Flybits has 60 employees and expects that to grow to 100 by the end of 2019.