Microsoft ventures Wants to Become an Artificial Intelligence Powerhouse

Microsoft hasn’t traditionally been considered an active venture investor but that has been changing in the last few years. Microsoft Ventures has been steadily developing a reputation as a smart corporate venture investor and wants to become one of the go-to venture capital firms for artificial intelligence startups.

Last December, Microsoft Ventures announced the launched of its AI fund and its first investment in Montreal-based Element AI. Just in the last few days, Microsoft ventures has led investments on two promising AI startups: Agolo and Bonsai. Little by little, the venture capital arm of the Redmond giant has been building an impressive portfolio of AI investments that nicely complements its technology stack.

The Investment in Bonsai

Microsoft Ventures’ AI fun led the recent $7.6 million round in Berkeley CA-based Bonsai. The Bonsai platform is a recent addition to the fast growing deep learning framework ecosystem. In fact, Microsoft recently open sourced the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit stack that could be considered a competitor of Bonsai.

Bonsai provides an open source, deep learning framework that simplifies the implementation of neural network applications. Bonsai enables a high-level programming models that contrasts with the experience provided by “low level” deep learning frameworks such as TensorFlow or Theano. Those capabilities are accompanied by a highly sophisticated toolset that streamlines the management, training and optimization of deep learning models. The platforms leverages some of the latest libraries released by AI thought leaders such as OpenAI or DeepMind.

The Investment in Agolo

Microsoft Ventures followed its investment in Bonsai by leading the $3.5 million of New York based AI platform Agolo. In that round, Microsoft Ventures partnered with an interesting group of of venture investors including CRU and Steve Cohen’s Point72 Ventures.

Agolo specializes on an area of natural language understanding(NLU) known as content-summarization. Essentially, the Agolo platform is able to analyze long pieces of content, identify key subject areas and their relationships and develop visual summaries that can be easily understood by an end user. Agolo’s summarization platform already integrates with platforms such as Facebook and Amazon’s Alexa.

Microsoft Ventures’ AI Edge

Corporate venture capital is always controversial but there are many tangle benefits that startups can get from partnering with Microsoft Ventures. For starters, today Microsoft possesses one of the most complete AI offerings in the market which includes cloud machine learning platforms such as Azure ML, AI APIs such as Microsoft Cognitive Services, R distributions like Microsoft R Server, deep learning frameworks such as Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit, data visualization platforms such as PowerBI and one of the most advanced AI database runtimes in the market in SQL Server. Additionally, Microsoft SaaS offerings such as Office365, Dynamics 365 or even Xbox Live offer a massive distribution channel to test new AI technologies. With all those benefits, we should expect Microsoft Ventures AI fund to continue building an impressive portfolio of AI startups in the short term.

CEO of IntoTheBlock, Chief Scientist at Invector Labs, I write The Sequence Newsletter, Guest lecturer at Columbia University, Angel Investor, Author, Speaker.

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