9 AI and machine learning startups you need to know about

From financial services to cybersecurity, and everything in between...

The global tech startup scene is a noisy, crowded space. But there’s no denying the allure of the entrepreneurial game for the innovative and ambitious among us.

And then there are the stories of those entrepreneurs whose ideas have endured into something truly transformational; Amazon, Apple, Google, you name it—many of the biggest and most influential companies in the world today were born of this heritage.

“One thing we can all agree on: The key attribute of a startup is its ability to grow,” wrote Forbes’ Natalie Robehmed.

And as my former CEO, Mark Jones, used to say, “All big companies were once small companies too. The only difference is that they grew up.”

With the number of AI and machine learning unicorns set to hit record highs this year, we’ve rounded up the hit list—15 startups you need to know about (if you don’t already)—so you can keep a finger on the pulse of intelligent innovation in 2018…

Onfido hero
Image via Onfido 

1. Darktrace

A global machine learning company for cybersecurity, Darktrace has so far received more than $182mn in funding since it was founded in 2013. Today, the Cambridge-founded organization boasts 140 per cent year-on-year revenues and more than 620 employees across 32 offices.

With backing from investors and advisors across the tech, cybersecurity and business domains, Darktrace has twice been named in CB Insights’ AI 100 list.

“Inspired by the human body’s immune system, Darktrace’s world-leading AI cyber defense technology spots and stops even the subtlest attacks,” said CEO Nicole Eagan. “Inclusion again this year in the ‘AI 100’ is a result of our technology’s ability to find threats others simply miss.”

2. BenevolentAI

With prolific amounts of research information and data now available the modern medical and drug development industry faces two issues; inability to process all of the information available; and inability to connect outcomes across and between studies. But UK-based startup BenevolentAI is changing this with AI.

“I joined Benevolent because I knew the industry was broken and things needed to be done differently,” said BenevolentBio CEO Jackie Hunter in an exclusive interview with the AIIA Network.

“I know this is the right way to do it. I want to leave this industry with a lot of drugs that have made it to people successfully and making a difference to lives—that’s why I’m doing it.”

Read more: Is the principle of ethics in AI asleep at the wheel?

To date, BenevolentAI remains one of the most funded AI startups in the UK.

3. Cybereason

As cyber threats continue to grow, Cybereason is “rewriting the rules on how organizations protect themselves against rapidly evolving adversaries”.

“Partners are relying on vendors that can offer their customers a more proactive defense that’s one step ahead of the cybercriminals,” Cybereason’s vice president of channels, Gregg Henebry, told CNN.

Founded in 2012 in Tel Aviv, Israel, by former experts of the Israel Defense Forces Unit 8200, Cybereason is now nearing on unicorn status, having been recently valued at over $900mn. 

“Cybereason’s platform is built from the ground up for scale and for AI and ML at all levels: machine level, organization/enterprise level, regional/cluster and full global context levels,” said chief security officer, Sam Curry.

4. Klarna

If you’ve spent much time in Sweden, then chances are you’ve heard of this online financial services unicorn—especially given that some 40 per cent of the country’s e-commerce sales are now processed through Klarna.

Headquartered in Stockholm, Klarna offers payment solutions for online storefronts, debt collection and credit payments through a simple platform by assuming the financial risk between stores and shoppers.

According to the Economist:

“Like many fintech firms, Klarna believes that its algorithms do a better job of identifying creditworthy customers than the arthritic systems used by conventional financial firms.”

At present, Klarna has some 60 million end customers, more than 70,000 partner merchants and operates in 14 markets globally.

5. Monzo

Monzo is one of the most hyped fintech startups to come out of the UK. Founded in early 2015 by Tom Blomfield, whose former startup GoCardless has gone on to raise $25mn, Monzo’s mission is to build the best bank in the world—“one that’s built for your smartphone and designed for the way we live today.”

Monzo hero
Founder and CEO of Monzo, Tom Blomfield. Image via Monzo. 

It’s much more than a combination of conventional bank and online app, Blomfield explained in a recent Guardian interview. “It’s much more emotional. A lot of young people feel anxious and stressful about money,” he said.

“What Monzo does is auto-budget for you. It tells you how much you’re spending, say, on eating out. It’s really easy to send and receive money—so if four of you are in a restaurant it splits the bill instantly."

With more than half a million users already, and a waiting list a mile long, Blomfield’s aim of one billion customers in less than five years may just be within reach.

6. Onfido

In the tech-heavy world of today, Onfido’s offering to enterprises is a refreshing detour from the norm: building trust in an online world through digital identity verification. With machine learning technology, Onfido is able to validate user identities by comparing ID documents with facial biometrics, and cross-reference these with multiple databases near-instantly. Simple yet effective.

And with more than $60mn in funding from investors such as Microsoft Ventures, Salesforce Ventures and Crunchfund, there’s little denying that the founding trio of Oxford University alumni are onto something here.

Read more: Millennials poised to disrupt authentication landscape

“Identity theft accounts for half of all reported fraud in the UK and is also the fastest growing crime in the USA,” explained CEO and co-founder Husayn Kassai.

“The risk of fraud actively limits growth for many businesses, who may be nervous of implementing [for example] remote onboarding solutions due to the higher threat they represent,” he said.

7. Tractable

Tractable may be lower on the radar than some of the other startups on our list—but not for long. This is the startup powering organizations to automate expert visual tasks—think everything from medical imagery to preventative maintenance and even car insurance claims—with artificial intelligence.

One of Tractable’s products, an AI estimating tool for car insurance claims, has seen more than 300 million images of damage to cars. According to the organization, this is roughly equivalent to “combining the experience of thousands of experts into one intelligence”. 

“Because we’ve been assessing millions of claims, our AI has been able to learn how to accurately assess damage,” said chief commercial officer Adrien Cohen, adding that:

“We wanted to make life easier for the whole claims ecosystem, the customer, insurer and the repairer by reducing the pain points in the claims process."

8. Element AI

Co-founded by Jean-François Gagné and Yoshua Bengio, Element AI turns AI research into business applications through an AI as a Service (AIaaS) platform. And with more than $102 million in funding, the Canadian-based startup now finds itself playing among the global leaders in the enterprise AI sector.

With the largest privately-owned artificial intelligence R&D lab, and a newly opened London office, Element AI is also driving forward its focus on “AI for good”, empowering NGOs, intergovernmental bodies and local actors to leverage the technology.

“Element AI is committed to enabling AI for good in our society; we believe this technology can help tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues,” said CEO, Gagné.

9. Echobox

“Imagine a superhuman editor with an incredibly deep understanding of its audience, but 100 times faster,” explained Echobox founder and chief executive, Antoine Amann. This could explain why Echobox claims its platform is able to help raise referral traffic from social media by as much as 142 per cent.

Using a combination of AI and machine learning, Echobox analyzes vast amounts of data to analyze what content topics people respond best to at different times of the day across platforms.

Read more: Creativity in the age of AI 

“The data we use is both historical and real-time,” Amann told the BBC. “For instance, our system will have a strong understanding of what type of [publishing] times worked well in the past, whilst at the same time analyzing what’s currently trending on the web.”

With this combination of smarts, it’s not hard to see why Echobox has already pulled in more than $3mn in funding, and is working with some of the biggest brands in publishing—Vogue and The Guardian, to name a couple.