While Ottawa might not be known as an AI hotbed, the capital is starting to make inroads in the rapidly emerging space – thanks in large part to fintech trailblazer MindBridge Ai.
The six-year-old firm – which makes software that uses artificial intelligence to detect potential fraud, accounting errors and other red flags in financial documents – has undergone big changes over the past few years as it looks to cement its status as a leader in its field.
In 2020, MindBridge expanded into the U.K. after acquiring a London-based company. Then, earlier this year, CEO Eli Fathi – a veteran force behind the firm's rapid ascent – retired and passed the leadership torch to former Microsoft executive Leyton Perris.
With his company continuing to forge ahead on its scaleup path, MindBridge founder Solon Angel recently sat down with Techopia's Michael Curran to discuss the firm's growth prospects. This is an edited transcript of that conversation.
OBJ: Solon, give us in your own words a description of the company these days.
SA: MindBridge is continuously growing and staying true to its mission of reducing risk and enabling professionals to find errors and anomalies in financial transactions and financial statements. The platform has emerged as one of the world's leading risk-discovery platforms. There's a lot of things that corporations and governments are dealing with these days, and the purpose of MindBridge is really helping professional judgment with auditors, CFOs, and other professionals. The hypothesis that we put forth for the creation of this company has turned out, unfortunately, in some cases to be true, with cases such as Wirecard and other major financial irregularities that were not caught fast enough. It's an AI company, but I can tell you the success is due to the very talented individuals behind the logo. I would not be here without that team.
OBJ: Do you mind telling us a little bit about how that works? It's an AI machine language that would do some analysis on financial transactions. But maybe take us an inch deeper on that concept.
SA: If you think about it, it's almost like an antivirus on financials. It will scan through the books of a corporation or government or specific database that you point it to, and it will scan through it and find what is declared to be anomalies or irregularities. The great thing about MindBridge is we have actual CPAs on staff. We have partnered with regulators and have collaborated with universities in embedding the AI with best practices and following the standards in auditing. We take some data from corporations and government, scan through it applying AI and some best practices, and present reports faster and easier so that the professionals in charge don't have to learn how to deploy machine learning and don't have to learn how to use AI.
OBJ: Let’s go back in time a little bit. MindBridge was founded about six years ago. Can you give us a sense of how the company has grown over that period? Let’s get an idea of the momentum that you're building and how the products are involved.
SA: The company was founded a couple of months after (renowned computer scientist) Geoff Hinton in Toronto published the white paper on deep learning, which was an inspiration. They were being very candid about it, and we were able to be first to market but, more importantly, first to market with a set of professionals dedicated and convinced that we could make a difference in this world. But things got real when the founding team of 15 people was convinced that it didn't matter how many times people told us it was impossible. That allowed us to be really focused, and we went through a very rapid phase of expansion being the first ones to do that. Not only do you need the market to fit with the venture, but you need to assemble a quality executive leadership team. And this is where we did find some challenges. When you have a big green corporation, it was hard for us to find executives out of Canada and Ottawa that could really fit with the culture and at the same time very quickly help us expand.
When COVID happened, new initiatives were frozen, but the existing client base also changed. Everyone that was digitally enabled, that was ready to walk with the future of the profession, demanded more of MindBridge. So we got even busier. The usage was just increasing on people that were already mature enough in the process of adopting AI. So, it was very interesting for me to witness how a company can start with the right timing, need to focus on talent density and quality of the executive leadership team, and then something like COVID happens. Luckily, we had a very supportive board, and we're coming out much stronger out of COVID with a very big announcement coming soon on the customer front.
OBJ: Let’s discuss a couple of big changes that happened in 2021 with MindBridge. You were just referencing kind of some of the growing pains that MindBridge realized. You have a new CEO in 2021.
SA: Well, Leyton came with a track record of excellence in sales leadership, and he grew up with us in the ranks of MindBridge. He joined us as a chief revenue officer, then very quickly became COO and president. I think it was a very interesting experience for me to see him transition like this from within the ranks and with a continuously demonstrated action-oriented attitude. The interesting thing is that right away in the middle of COVID, Leyton was able to put a focus on several initiatives at the same time, in terms of changing some of the sales processes, but also just a focus on a more global scale. It's great to have a change of leadership, because it gives fresh eyes to the venture. This was very interesting to see, and I can tell you he's made an impact really fast and beat the odds several times.
OBJ: And as you indicated, he's based in the U.S., and that's kind of what's followed is a little bit of a U.S. expansion for MindBridge, is that correct?
SA: Absolutely. MindBridge is growing its headcount by 20 per cent, and marketing and sales primarily are right now hired out of the U.S.
OBJ: I know that you've got some news coming, and there's always lots of confidentiality around these things. But can you give us a little bit of a hint as to what we might expect in 2022 from MindBridge? What type of year do you think it will be?
SA: Well, I think it's going to be a breakaway year. MindBridge has taken the pandemic to retool, re-energize, refocus and make some enhancements and changes, and I think that will show results in the marketplace very soon. People will have noticed it's been a while since we've raised capital. But we will definitely double down on what's working very aggressively, and you'll see that what we're going to be focusing on is just growth and asserting the first-mover advantage on the global scale even beyond what people can think of.
OBJ: That sounds really exciting. That's one of the reasons why MindBridge will be one of our companies to watch in 2022.