artificial intellegenceNew startups focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are rapidly sprouting in Silicon Valley. In 2016 alone, more than 550 AI-based startups raised about $5 billion in venture funding. These startups are applying AI to tackle everything from fintech to healthcare to e-commerce to the Internet of Things. For Rama Sekhar, Partner at Norwest Venture Partners, what’s most compelling are companies that are squarely focused on solving real business problems through the use of cognitive intelligence technologies.

“What I’m most interested in are the companies being born now that can use AI to solve business problems such as retail analytics and cyber security. AI will be infused into every layer of the product stack. It is a means to an end,” said Sekhar.

Norwest has invested in several companies that offer unique AI-based technologies including CognitiveScale, Agari, Gong, Qubole and 6 River Systems. Here’s how these companies are using AI to solve real issues for businesses:

  1. CognitiveScale builds augmented intelligence software for financial services, healthcare, and e-commerce. CognitiveScale’s suite of products have helped multiple e-commerce companies increase user engagement and conversion through better personalization. It is now possible to predict what a shopper wants even before they start typing.
  2. Agari uses machine learning to identify highly targeted spear phishing emails that are carefully crafted and often slip through the gap in an enterprise’s existing defenses. Agari has built an ML solution that learns the characteristic behavioral patterns of legitimate email senders and uses this algorithm to block malicious emails from hackers and criminals.
  3. Gong is a software company for sales teams that uses speech recognition, natural language processing and machine learning to help sales leaders identify what’s working and what’s not working on their customer calls.  Sales managers can then use this data to understand trends across hundreds of calls and share best practices being used by top performers.
  4. Qubole is a Big Data as a Service company that enables engineers to easily build deep learning into their applications. Qubole also uses AI under the hood to automate the administration of a customer’s cloud computing usage, saving customers loads of money on their public cloud bills through features such as auto-scaling.
  5. 6 River Systems is a warehouse robotics startup that provides a platform for automated fulfillment operations. Their robots assist human workers through a zone-based picking and replenishment workflow and reduce the amount of time employees walk around a warehouse, making them more efficient.

“Executives are increasingly seeing the value of using software to make people more efficient and more intelligent. You could consider this more Augmented Intelligence than Artificial Intelligence,” said Sekhar.

While remedial tasks will be more automated in the future, Sekhar is confident that the rise of AI will also create new productivity gains and a more intelligent workforce. Looking ahead, Sekhar and his colleagues at Norwest are excited to see AI continue to transform industries such as e-commerce, healthcare and cyber security.