Techopia Live: Ottawa’s Contextere laying the foundations for global AI success

Techopia Live got a crash course in business fundamentals this week from Contextere, an Ottawa firm working with the likes of Lockheed Martin and BMW on an artificial intelligence solution to keep blue-collar workers safe.

CEO and co-founder Gabe Batstone took the hot seat and discussed how his travels to army arsenals and factory floors across Russia, Afghanistan and North America revealed a gap between the abundance of information in the manufacturing industry and the access workers have to that data. With a dozen industrial workers dying on the job every day in the United States, Batstone told Techopia Live that there was a clear need to build a solution that could simultaneously better inform their work and keep them safer.

“They install, they maintain, they operate complex equipment, and that equipment is key to make sure planes fly, trains roll, the lights go on,” he said. “What’s the right thing to tell the person at the right time on the right device to get the outcome you want?”

Describing it as “Siri, but for a blue-collar worker,” Batstone explained that Contextere’s AI tells on-site employees about the tools, approaches and relevant information needed to work on complex machinery. The company started big with a $1.1-million contract from defence giant Lockheed Martin and landed some early funding from BMW and a spot in its U.S. accelerator.

While the seven-figure deals and big-name partners might be flashy signs of success, Batstone echoed comments from sponsor guest Mike Gerrior, a partner with Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP, who said startups need to lock down their fundamentals before attempting to scale and attract investment. Good technology gets investors’ attention, Gerrior said, but building the structure of the business – issuing shares, protecting intellectual property, securing legal statuses – is just as important.

Batstone said Contextere has been especially focused on laying these foundations lately. For example, the company recently incorporated Contextere as a U.S. entity because of numerous contract provisions that state deals must be done with firms south of the border.

Contextere is also among a list of Canadian companies that the federal government has pre-qualified as AI suppliers. Batstone said attaining these qualifications has already come in handy to get its foot in the door with prospective customers such as the Canadian military, and encouraged startups to invest in similar certifications and foundations that could pay off down the line.

“No one’s ever given me money like, ‘Here’s a pile of cash, go do work.’ There are contracts, there are expectations, there are procurement rules,” he said.

“Everything isn’t X+Y=Z. Sometimes there are second- and third-order effects when you grow a business and they’re very often forgotten in those early days.”

To hear more tips from Gerrior and Batstone on how to build a solid business foundation, watch the video above.