AI update: RBC and BMO invest $4 million into Montreal’s CDL, Borealis AI opens lab with McGill professor as advisor


The Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) in Montreal is about to welcome its first ever cohort of 28 companies on December 15th, made up of entirely AI-focused startups. The opening of a CDL is just the latest in a series of new labs and cohorts to open in the city this year, including a new Facebook AI lab, a Samsung AI lab, Google Deep Mind’s new lab, and Stradigi’s AI applied research lab led by an astrophysicist.

READ ALSO: HEC Montréal launches Creative Destruction Lab-Montreal

To add to the growing list of AI news, RBC and BMO announced this week that they’ve made a $4 million investment into Montreal’s CDL, and RBC Borealis AI announced the opening of yet another AI lab with McGill University professor Jackie Cheung as academic advisor.

CDL-Montreal will focus on data-oriented startups, using the methodology established by the CDL at Rotman, which employs an objectives-based mentoring process led by highly accomplished entrepreneurs and angel investors. The goal of the program is to maximize equity value creation for technology-based startups.

The CDL announced this spring that it would be expanding to three new locations across Canada: CDL-Montreal at HEC Montréal; CDL-Atlantic at Dalhousie University’s Rowe School of Business in Halifax; and CDL-Rockies at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.

The expansion brings the total number of CDL programs to five, including existing locations at the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto and the Sauder School of Business at UBC.

 The investment from RBC and BMO makes sense, as the CDL is just the latest addition to a now-thriving AI ecosystem. Inviting AI startups into CDL-Montreal will allow the new companies access to some of the biggest and most influential AI companies in the world.

Over 200 new businesses applied for entry into CDL-Montreal’s first program, with nearly half of the companies based outside of Canada. A large majority of the companies either already have a patent or are close to obtaining one, and the average financing is around $900,000.

“The CDL-Montreal program represents a stimulant challenge not only for our startup companies but also for all the partners involved in this innovative project,” said Fil Papich, co-head of BMO Capital Markets in Quebec.

The first cohort will run from December until next June, with the startups getting the chance to learn AI from powerhouses like Yoshua Bengio and Joëlle Pineau, and to gain tech insight from community leaders like iNovia Capital CEO Chris Arseneault.

The new RBC Borealis AI lab will open its doors next year.

“Montreal has emerged as a global centre for research in artificial intelligence and I’m excited to be participating in this community,” said Dr. Foteini Agrafioti, head of Borealis AI. “We’re committed to helping advance the field through the creation of intellectual property and look forward to providing new opportunities for the enormous talent already doing exceptional research in the region.”

Professor Cheung, who will act as academic advisor to the lab, is an expert in the field of natural language processing (NLP), which is a computer’s ability to understand human language. NLP is considered one of the key focus areas of AI research, with potential applications in the financial and other sectors, such as the analysis of unstructured text that is prevalent in public and RBC proprietary datasets.

“This appointment came about following a visit by Foteini Agrafioti, the head of Borealis AI, and her team of researchers to McGill University earlier this year,” Professor Cheung told MTLinTECH. “Following discussions and a later visit I made to the lab in Toronto, I became convinced that this is the start of an exciting new venture for artificial intelligence in Canada. In particular, I was impressed by the quality of the research that is already happening in the lab since their establishment roughly a year ago. I am excited to be able to help Borealis AI establish their presence in the Montreal AI ecosystem, and create new opportunities for natural language processing research and development in Canada, led by a Canadian company.”

The new Borealis lab will also collaborate with MILA and Professor Yoshua Bengio, and continue to grow its research partnerships with McGill University and the Université de Montréal.

“The MILA is delighted to see a major Canadian business investing in AI research, particularly in long-term difficult questions, and opening a lab in Montreal,” said AI pioneer and head of MILA, Professor Yoshua Bengio. “The collaborations this will bring are not just between MILA and RBC, but also involve other actors in the ecosystem, which is important for the country’s ability to compete internationally. There are plenty of difficult AI research questions of interest to RBC which can have major impact on many sectors of the economy, so this goes well beyond the banking sector.”

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