Samiron Ray, principal of Comet Labs (cometlabs.io), provides an overview of the interesting AI-based startups that are emerging in the marketplace and how his company selects who to back. Comet Labs is a venture capital fund that was founded in 2015 that invests primarily in early stage artificial intelligence and tech companies that are stepping in pace with some of the world’s largest industries. To date, Comet Labs has invested in 35 companies in this space. Comet Labs’ senior leadership believes that AI and robotics will allow humans to rethink how industries perform and accomplish tasks.
Samiron Ray states that increased computing power, large volumes of data, deeper research, and advances in generative adversarial networks have supercharged the landscape. And Ray’s company is interested in how robotics can advance many types of businesses, including some of Comet Labs’ traditional investments in agriculture, transportation, insurance, and others. Ray explains how AI can assist established companies with automation but also transformation with new workflows, from assisting sales with follow-ups and engagement to tasking and streamlining.
In terms of their investment strategy, Ray explains that Comet Labs looks for companies that have a team of strong technologists with a deep understanding of their industry and what it takes to sell into that industry. Additionally, they look for extremely valuable technology that could provide large returns as well as companies with proprietary data advantages that have exclusivity. Ray acknowledges that some labor jobs will be lost, but he mentions that, although the media doesn’t cover the topic, many new jobs will actually be created with advancing AI as well. For an AI moves into more industries, a need will arise for qualified personnel to train and maintain robots, to work creatively thinking of new services and applications for the technology.
Ray discusses defensibility, and how they assess individual startups in regard to what makes them defensible against another, specifically speaking, what makes the company’s data unique, valuable, and hard for their competitors to access. As AI training is based on data, Ray’s company looks at, and favors, proprietary data over volume, for the companies they find interesting. And in regard to the training data for AI, Ray stresses the importance of explainability, in industries where privacy is concerned as they work with extremely confidential information, as well as bias issues that must be carefully examined.
Ray explains that AI companies are not just streamlining and automating workflow, but are actually reinventing the core economics of industries. End to end strategies is of particular interest to Comet Labs as they consider where to make their capital expenditures. Personal passion from the founders, AI talent, knowledge of customer psychology, and industry expertise are four valuable qualities that Comet Labs looks for in emerging startups.