Sandpiper Ventures has joined a US$1 million (C$1.27 million) funding round recently closed by Begin AI, whose software helps to personalize applications for consumers without needing expensive artificial intelligence infrastructure.
Sandpiper, an Atlantic Canadian investment fund managed by women to invest in female-led companies, announced the Halifax company’s funding in a press release Monday.
Founded by CEO Rima Al Shikh not long after she immigrated to Canada, Begin AI aims to reduce the costs of personalizing software so that more digital products understand users’ habits and adapt to their personal tastes.
“Consumers expect personalization in their products and experiences,” said Sandpiper Co-Founder and Managing Partner Rhiannon Davies in the statement. “Our cars can guess our daily commute and music preferences, . . . and our nutrition app directs us to new recipes and the foods we are lacking. Products become exceptional when they are tailored to people and their behaviors.”
Begin began – if you’ll excuse the wordplay – after Al Shikh had worked for a few years as an AI consultant, meeting clients across Canada. She understood that using AI to customize applications for individuals was challenging for two main reasons. First, personalizing software using AI can require a lot of infrastructure, such as servers and data storage. And second, there are privacy concerns as the customization process can reveal personal information.
When COVID-19 shut down virtually everything in the spring of 2020, Al Shikh took the time to sit alone with a whiteboard and come up with a solution that would overcome these problems. The result was Begin AI, which lowers the costs of personalizing digital products. It allows companies and/or developers to personalize applications without all the AI infrastructure, or the worries about violating users’ privacy.
With a bit of funding from friends in Dubai – where the Syria native had worked for 12 years – Al Shikh developed a prototype and began to explain her solution to developers and people working in the AI industry.
“Everyone I talked with said it was so intuitive, and everybody was very positive about it,” she said, adding their comments gave her the impetus to grow the company.
Begin AI soon took an office in the Halifax innovation hub Volta, and began to seek investment. Buzz about the company began to grow, and at one point Al Shikh was receiving daily calls from venture capital funds making inquiries.
The main investors in the current round are Sandpiper and a private investor in Vancouver.
“The technology is cutting edge,” said Sandpiper Managing Partner Cathy Bennett in the press release. “Personalization is the future of human experience and Begin makes it accessible.”
The Begin AI team now comprises eight people including contractors, and the product is being piloted by select developers and a few companies. With its funding in hand, Al Shikh said, the company will now enlist some sandboxes to continue to use the product and work with a few corporate clients that can undertake enterprise-scale projects with the solution. For the time being, the product is being used on an invitation-only basis.
“There is a low application rate of artificial intelligence in mobile applications with only 1 percent of 14 million applications offering users AI experiences,” said Al Shikh. “That’s why we see a huge opportunity. Sandpiper understood our vision and appreciated our market dynamics from the first meeting. The questions they asked were insightful and the General Partners at Sandpiper immediately started showing support and creating value.”