The Suburban: Montreal-based start-up Element AI receives prestigious award
It started with three doctoral students and their PhD supervisor getting together in a basement to figure out how machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) could improve predictions in risk-associated industries such as insurance and finance. Two decades later, key members of that original team are at the helm of Element AI, a rapidly growing Canadian high-tech startup that has created more than 500 jobs across in five cities across three continents in less than three years.
That impressive track record has earned Element AI a prestigious award from Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada for business and academia, which has provided support to the team since the early days.
In recognition of its explosive growth and in honour of Mitacs’s 20th anniversary, the company — co-founded by Yoshua Bengio, Jean-François Gagné and Nicolas Chapados in 2016 — was presented a special award at the Mitacs Entrepreneurs Award ceremony on May 28 in Halifax.
“Mitacs is proud to have supported the early scientific curiosity and entrepreneurial passion that grew into this impressive Canadian AI success story,” said Alejandro Adem, Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director. “Access to top research talent and a robust entrepreneurial spirit helps Element AI harness the power of artificial intelligence to make businesses around the world stronger, safer and more agile.”
The Mitacs–Element AI story started at the University of Montreal, where Chapados and two other doctoral students — Charles Dugas and Pascal Vincent — teamed up with Bengio, then their PhD supervisor, to work on using AI to improve insurance and financial portfolio management. A critical step in their entrepreneurial journey came when they secured a research contract with an insurer to address the problem of good drivers paying more for insurance and bad drivers paying less. Catalyzed by Mitacs funding, they eventually commercialized that research to launch ApSTAT Technologies in 2001.
At the same time, Mitacs funded a second University of Montreal spinoff called Planora, co-founded by Gagné, along with Louis-Martin Rousseau and Alexander Le Bouthillier, and for many years, Planora and ApSTAT worked closely together to build state-of-the-art workforce management solutions. In 2016, Gagné, Bengio and Chapados reunited to create Element AI, with Rousseau advising as an academic fellow and Dugas later joining as insurance expert.
Today, the company’s suite of AI products augments decision making across a variety of organizations, including insurance, capital markets, banking and wealth management, manufacturing, retail, cybersecurity, and transportation and logistics. It has offices in Montreal, Toronto, London, Seoul and Singapore, and continues to partner with academia, business and government to advance AI research.
The Mitacs Entrepreneur Awards recognize the most enterprising of Mitacs program alumni who have gone on to create their own business ventures. In addition to the 20th Anniversary Award presented to Element AI, five Mitacs alumni will also be recognized for their entrepreneurial efforts in the following categories: Outstanding Entrepreneur, Social Entrepreneur, Global Impact Entrepreneur, Environmental Entrepreneur and Change Agent Entrepreneur.
“Canada has exceptional talent and Mitacs is extremely proud to support young entrepreneurs in spring-boarding to market the next generation of innovations,” said Adem, noting that one out of every 10 Mitacs interns chooses to pursue their own business. “Their contributions are strengthening the Canadian economy, spurring productivity and creating jobs.”
- Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 20 years. Mitacs is funded by the Government of Canada, the Government of Quebec, the other provincial governments, as well as university and industry partners.
- Mitacs internships connect companies and organizations with graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, who apply their specialized expertise to research challenges.
- Working with more than 60 universities, thousands of companies, and both federal and provincial governments, Mitacs builds partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada. Open to all disciplines and all industry sectors, projects can span a wide range of areas, including manufacturing, business processes, IT, social sciences, design and more.
For information about Mitacs and its programs, visit mitacs.ca/newsroom