Ottawa’s MindBridge builds 'bridge into Europe' with U.K. startup acquisition

Eli Fathi
MindBridge Ai CEO Eli Fathi. File photo

An Ottawa artificial intelligence firm that’s landed tens of millions of dollars in venture capital and is considered one of the country’s biggest IPO prospects is taking its state-of-the-art technology across the Atlantic after buying a U.K.-based startup.

MindBridge Ai officially opened its London office on Tuesday, with company officials touting the move as a “bridge into Europe” as the firm looks to broaden its global customer base.

“If you are serious about expanding geographically, you have to really do it in a way that’s done properly,” MindBridge CEO Eli Fathi told OBJ. “You cannot just parachute in and out.”

The announcement comes less than two weeks after the rapidly growing Ottawa company closed its acquisition of London-based AI firm Brevis. Terms of the agreement were not released.

The U.K. startup’s products use AI and machine learning techniques to help clients with tax and corporate reporting, technology that dovetails neatly with MindBridge’s own fraud-detection software that can read years of audit reports in a fraction of the time it would take a single set of human eyes.

Brevis co-founder Stuart Cobbe was a former manager at Moore Kingston Smith, a British data analytics company and a MindBridge customer. Cobbe and his business partners were very familiar with MindBridge and its products, and the two sides began talks about joining forces more than a year ago. The acquisition was finalized on Feb. 28.

Fathi said he’s watched the three-year-old fintech firm develop its “cutting-edge” software from afar and likes where the London-based enterprise is heading. 

“One of the things that was important for us was to look at a company that can become the launch pad for us in setting up a subsidiary in the U.K.,” he explained. “It was really a great, great match.”

But he also noted in acquiring Brevis, MindBridge is getting access to more than just a beachhead across the pond and some potentially very valuable IP. As the tug-of-war for top-shelf talent escalates in a fiercely competitive field that’s evolving by the minute, Fathi said the Brevis team will boost MindBridge’s brain power as it continues to ramp up R&D on new products. 

“Especially in AI, having access to people and talent is very crucial,” he said. “The technology without the people doesn’t mean anything. Having access to a team that has done it and also has the domain knowledge is extremely valuable for us.”

MindBridge’s foray into Europe is just the latest step in what’s been a rapid ascent for the fledgling fintech firm.

Founded in 2015, the company now has more than 100 employees and does business in 15 countries. It counts the Bank of England, Payments Canada and a major North American bank among its hundreds of customers, and last fall it announced a pilot project with the Bank of Canada, which is using MindBridge’s artificial intelligence-powered audit platform to monitor transactions in the central bank’s network and improve its existing controls.

Those types of reference customers have caught the eye of a number of big-name venture capitalists, who have invested more than $40 million in the company since its inception. 

Last summer, MindBridge brought longtime banking executive Miyo Yamashita on board as chief strategy officer to map out a path to a potential IPO. Company officials said then they were looking to go public as early as 2021, and last month MindBridge appeared on the annual Narwhal List of Canada’s biggest IPO prospects.

However, Fathi told OBJ last week the abundance of other sources of equity being offered to the firm means those plans will likely be put on hold, at least for a while.

“The important thing that we want to do is build an enduring company. In terms of the mechanism to create that, it’s not as important,” he said, adding an IPO is “something that we’re not going to really look at for a couple of years.”

Fathi said a much more pressing worry is finding the best and brightest minds to help steer MindBridge through its rise as an AI powerhouse. The company recently opened a Toronto office to tap into the GTA’s talent pool, and Fathi said it’s eyeing expansion to other parts of the world as well. 

But he was quick to add MindBridge has no plans to abandon its local roots. 

“We have to make Canada strong and Ottawa strong,” he said. “The more successes Ottawa has, the more talent we’ll attract, and this is really what’s important for this region.”