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Funding for AI

2012–2017

Companies receiving funding: 2,151

Amount: $33 billion

Growth: 83%

First quarter 2018

Companies: 104

Amount: $2.5 billion

Artificial intelligence (AI) is fast maturing as a technology, and as a vital way research is conducted, products are made, how people communicate, and machines interface with — and behave more like — humans.

Today AI and other tech firms are looking for additional capital to fund a deeper dive into the world of business, customer relationships, consumer applications and advanced services to take the category to the next level.

Until recently, what’s been missing is a way for tech professionals from Silicon Valley to the North Bay to network together, meet potential investors, find opportunities to expand in the U.S. and offshore, while building companies based on inclusion and women in key roles. All this is changing with the creation of a new organization, Tech Bay Area Advocates, helping to bridge these gaps while assisting firms in realizing their potential.

“Our focus is on providing real-time information and education on tech issues (verticals) along with connections for tech entrepreneurs seeking funding, and investors looking to invest in them,” said Lannie Medina, founder for the Tech Bay Area Advocates. She is a Sonoma County resident and Stanford undergraduate with a background in development, marketing, finance and institutional investing at Stanford, Charles Schwab and American Express.

Another TBAA goal is to help build a tech cluster, or ecosystem, in the North Bay including local firms and those wishing to come here from Silicon Valley and elsewhere around the globe.

Earlier this month, about 150 startups, business leaders and students gathered at a SOMO Village Event Center in Rohnert Park for an AI summit as well as Blockchain – the system that underlies cyptocurrency.

Keynote Speaker: Jonathan Miranda

“Our goal is to inform our leaders and customers about the future of tech. AI is multiplying everything that came before it and accelerating the pace of change,” said Jonathan Miranda, director of strategy and technology with Salesforce of San Francisco.

“The primary goal of AI is to augment workers while offering enhancements so people can do their jobs better. It’s not about Westworld-style robots or human surrogates, such as those in SciFi movies, someday replacing humans.”

He said the average physician only spends 50% of his/her time with patients, while viewing computer screens the rest of the time. A goal of AI is to take away up to 80-90% of day-to-day repetitive tasks.

For example, Miranda said CLARA, from Clara Labs, is a virtual assistant that makes scheduling decisions using the details of each request, based on a person’s availability and preset preferences, along with information from natural email conversations.

Medical AI Potential

Miranda said, “If a machine can learn, or store, electronic memories of 5,000 cat pictures, and you show it a new cat photo, it should be able to recognize the pattern. That’s machine learning in a narrow sense. In a much broader context, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on an extensive brain-mapping project with potential AI applications for repairing brain trauma damage with prospects for re-establishing human neural control directly to prosthetic limbs, among other possibilities.

There is also a need to personalize drugs for the human body. AI can sort through a list of symptoms to see who needs immediate care and recommend an appropriate treatment, saving lives and time.

Funding for AI

2012–2017

Companies receiving funding: 2,151

Amount: $33 billion

Growth: 83%

First quarter 2018

Companies: 104

Amount: $2.5 billion

For those conducting cancer research and developing appropriate treatment options, AI can be used to read 95% of cells in a test sample and provide a diagnosis in one hour, not three weeks.

Tech Waves Create Jobs

What does the future look like? He believes it involves having a better connection with customers, using smart, always on devices that augment reality.

Miranda said every technology wave creates more jobs. “It’s not about how jobs will go away, but about how jobs will change. What’s needed is the automation of joblessness, since a majority of people don’t know what they will be doing a year and a half from now.”

He said everyone should know how to learn, unlearn and relearn marketable skills while still being creative and realizing when they need to change. Investors are putting money on how to retrain employees for next generation jobs. The big question is how to keep the new workforce up to date on every tech advance that can impact them.

The Investment Community

The investor panel took a keen interest in startups and entrepreneurs at the Tech Summit. Executive Director Gabe Turner represented the Draper Venture Network (comprised of 22 funds in 60 cities on five continents); Managing Director Kate Bunina came from U+Ventures; Alicia Gargabedian came from SamsungNEXT, an early stage investment firm, and Michael Fluhr, a partner with Squire Patton Boggs, joined this group from this full service global law firm that uses cryptocurrency.

Also attending as an exhibitor and panelist was Che Voigt, CEO and founder of Altwork and board chair of the North Bay Angels, as well as Marco Marinucci, CEO and founder of Mind the Bridge, a global innovation advisory firm. Marinucci is also an angel investor, entrepreneur and founder of MTS, a seed venture capital firm. Interest is high when it comes to investments in AI and machine learning platform technology.

Investment panelists said they offered startups advice on how to approach them. They look for scalable businesses using deployable technology and beyond. They want to know the founders’ background, their inner passion, and their ability to clearly explain the societal problem they are trying to solve. Within the investment community, experience equals pattern recognition.

They admonished entrepreneurs to authenticate their desire, know the research firms they are pitching and what they are looking for from investors. Startups should know their competition, calculate their addressable market and strive for getting warm introductions, instead of sending cold emails – and not be late for meetings.

The UK Connection

TBAA and its London parent and affiliate have a strong connection, and TBAA states it is part of with a desire to assist firms in the UK to relocate on the West Coast and/or have a local presence while also enabling U.S. firms in do the same in England.

For example, Joanne Smith, founder of RecordSure currently based in London, owns a house in Sonoma County and wants to relocate here. Her firm helps clients understand and analyze interactions with customers and assists them in improving customer relation’s outcomes.

“The North Bay is a hotbed of tech talent and it is likely we will soon come here to better serve our U.S. clients.” Her firm was recognized by Startup Europe as one of the EU’s 15 most promising scale-ups.

Pip Jamieson, CEO and founder of The Dots, is the UK’s leading professional network platform for creative people.

“Whole waves of traditional service industries will disappear or radically change as they become increasingly automated. But there is no algorithm for creativity. Creators are a critical part of the future workforce.”

Getting There From Here

More than 2,151 companies and global startups have AI as a core part of their business today. Some say the fourth industrial revolution will be defined and driven by extreme automation and ubiquitous connectivity.

However, some say we are still several decades away before AI will become truly sentient, with the ability, or sense, of being alive.

While AI is enabling machines that incorporate some of these attributes today, they do not possess qualities typically associated with being human, such as an awareness of self and others, a moral/spiritual compass, perception, mental formations, a social presence, consciousness and the ability to plan and develop strategic thinking and make creative choices.

While achieving this last milestone is still a possibility, for now industry watchers say it remains beyond the event horizon.

SONOMA COUNTY EXECUTIVES AT THE SUMMIT

Che Voight, Altwork CEO, Rohnert Park

Altworks designed and is marketing a highly advanced workstation combining a multi-position chair with desktop, screen and other accessories that redefine how workstations and computers work with people.

Steve Goody, CEO of Pocket Radar, Santa Rosa

Pocket Radar uses doppler technology to focus on the sports technology sector, producing handheld meters to determine the speed of objects (tennis, baseballs, etc.) with other applications designed for traffic engineering and law enforcement.

Nick Wagner, operations lead of CannaCraft, Santa Rosa

CannaCraft is leveraging Nick Wagner’s logistics management background to ramp up manufacturing and distribution of cannabis edible and topical alternatives to opioids, as well as treatments for arthritis and bursitis. The company manufactures a number of products under five brands, including AbsoluteXtracts cannabis oils, Care By Design medicines and Satori chocolates.

Teddie Pierce, founder of Decipher HMIS, Windsor

Pierce established a consultancy for cities and counties to assist them in complying with HUD requirements to collect, analyze and input data from a local Continuum of Care group to the Homeless Management Information System database leading up to publication of the Annual Homeless Assessment Report.

Gurman Gill, Sonoma State University professor of Science and Technology, Rohnert Park

Gill is developing and implementing algorithms for computer vision, medical imaging and graphics applications.

San francisco and Silicon Valley Panelists

Mashesh Ram, CEO of Solvvy in San Mateo

His firm is reimagining customer service and CRM using AI in a self-service platform to dramatically improve the customer experience and reduced costs when answering common customer questions.

Neeraja Rasmussen, CEO/founder of Spyglaz

Her company uses machine-learning algorithms to help companies quickly identify at-risk customers and manage churn more effectively through targeted outreach and follow-up.

Clarence Wooten, CEO/founder of STEAM Role and Rolecoin.io

Developed STEAM Role, a Tinder-like application to empower young people ages 13 to 30 to use to find their dream careers by following the roadmaps and role models in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics).

Christina D’Ambrosio, diversity and inclusion head with HackerOne

Formed by hackers and security leaders, the uses a powered security platform to surface the most relevant security issues to help its customers find and fix weaknesses in their computer systems before they can be criminally exploited.

Kennedy McDaniel, operations lead for Koniku of San Francisco

Using biological cells for odor detection of compounds in the air, Kennedy said the company’s technology “listens” to neurons and analyze what they are saying.

Yoni Koenig, cofounder of Exit Reality VR of San Francisco

The company develops highly sophisticated Urban VR Safaris and Tech Tourism productions taking businessmen, employees, and guests on virtual tours. This technology can be deployed as Mobile VR and can also be part of trade shows, parties or corporate events.