Stuart Boyd

Stuart Boyd

Halifax artificial intelligence startup Invisible Agents is trying to raise a $500,000 funding round to help increase its staff from three to as many as seven people.

Founder Stuart Boyd started the company in Austin, Texas, in 2018, before relocating to Halifax with Innovacorp as its sponsor in the federal government’s Startup Visa program. The other two employees are based out of the United States, with Boyd expecting to recruit additional staff in Halifax.

Invisible Agents helps non-profits and churches raise funds by offering machine learning-based suggestions about how to customize and target fundraising efforts.

“There’s a broader acceptance in the for-profit space of the inherent value of having more data analytics, but the non-profits don’t often have that luxury, because they need a tangible, monetary ROI (return on investment),” said Boyd in an interview. “So we’re trying to help them take the action to capture that in the form of gifts from their supporters.”

The software makes its recommendations based on what Boyd and his team categorize as “inside” and “outside” metrics.

Inside metrics are data from a non-profit’s internal records, such as whether someone has volunteered with the organization or signs any of its petitions. Outside metrics include analysis based on prevailing economic conditions, as well as “wealth screening” to identify which potential donors are most likely to be able to afford to donate.

The two new hires are a product strategy expert from Texas, who Boyd knew before moving to Canada, and a sales specialist from New York State.

All three people would have been working remotely even without COVID-19, which Boyd said has made it easier to adapt to the new environment.

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Of greater concern, he added, is whether the pandemic and its economic effects will impede Invisible Agents’ ability to scale up its sales. With growth prospects uncertain, Boyd has decided to use the potentially slow period as an opportunity to continue implementing his product development plans.

“It feels like a good time to maybe try to focus on product because the market is unstable, but we can make process on building up the technology,” he said.

To that end, three of the people he plans to hire will be software developers. The fourth, who will come later, will be a fundraising consultant to help fine-tune the advice given by the AI.

Boyd also has plans to start a research project with a Dalhousie University professor and as many as four graduate students, facilitated by MITACS – a national organization that helps link researchers with corporations for R&D.

The current funding round will mark Invisible Agents’ first major capital raise, with Boyd having previously obtained non-dilutive funding from Innovacorp’s Sprint competition.

He added that the availability of funding and resources for young companies in Atlantic Canada helped spur him to relocate to the region – particularly the input he received from both Innovacorp and Nova Scotia Business Inc.’s senior foreign investment attraction executive Chandra Pottle before and during the move.

“Starting a business, cash is key, especially with bootstrapping,” he said. “And with the wide array of programs, it felt like Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada had a hierarchy of offerings that I didn’t find elsewhere in Canada.”