«Any company sporting a little AI in its business model can apply». That’s how badly Techstars, the prestigious Colorado-based fund and seed accelerator, wants to be a part of the Montreal booming AI ecosystem.
In a few days, the accelerator program it launched specifically for the local startup scene will stop accepting new entries. It will then spend the following weeks sorting out the applicants, and will select ten projects to fund (up to $120,000 each) and grow.
«What would normally take a year will be accomplished in three months», says Bruno Morency, who joined Techstars about a month ago to manage the Techstars Montreal AI accelerator program founded in partnership with Montreal’s Real Ventures VC fund. «Techstars and Real Ventures both possess a strong network of alumni and contacts around the world we can tap into to help these companies come to market a little faster.»
That, in a nutshell, is the whole point of Techstars coming to Montreal at all. The city has always been a strong academic hub, but creating strong and viable new companies out of the work of researchers and scientists has been lacking. The emergence of artificial intelligence highlights once more this situation.
«At this point, AI in Montreal is closely tied to university research. Il needs to be more focused on generating products and going to market», says Mr Morency. Accelerator programs such as the one Techstars aim to make this happen, well, faster.
Health, finance and government
In browsing through the various submissions he received so far, Bruno Morency can get a pretty broad image of what sectors seem poised to be disrupted by artificial intelligence. So far, he says, the health market is on top, followed by the financial sector. The public sector could also benefit from a little algorithmic magic.
«We see a lot of new projects around chatbots», adds the Techstars Montreal AI manager. «Several companies want to integrate automated chat agents on their website to facilitate the interaction between their customers and their products or services. It makes the conversation with a human customer service agent, if the potential customer has already been informed about the product, pricing, etc.»
We can easily imagine the potential of chatbots specifically created for healthcare or banking. In fact, some already exist in different parts of the world. In the UK, for instance, a lot of money is being invested by huge institutions such as RBS to create next-generation banking services accessible 24/7.
If Techstars can help Montreal startups to benefit from these trends, all the better. We’ll know more in the coming months, the demo days for its AI accelerator program being scheduled during NIPS 2018, a major conference on neural information processing systems, which is being held in Montreal at the beginning of December.