AI has the potential to generate meaningful returns for the enterprise. Responding to a 2018 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, 54% of business executives say that their adoption of AI within the workplace has led to a boost in productivity. A separate 2019 McKinsey report found that 44% of firms using AI achieved a reduction in business costs in departments where AI is implemented.
But barriers stand in the way of deployment, including a lack of production-grade data and expensive tools and development processes. Among the top challenges enterprises face in adopting AI is an absence of in-house talent. Indeed, laments over the AI talent shortage in the U.S. have become a familiar refrain. In 2018, Element AI estimated that of the 22,000 Ph.D.-educated researchers globally working on AI development and research, only 25% are “well-versed enough in the technology to work with teams to take it from research to application.”
Increasingly, rather than hire their own talent, companies are turning to specialized vendors to fulfill their predictive analytics goals. According to Deloitte, 59% of organizations are meeting their AI needs by adopting third-party enterprise software with AI. One of the more prolific providers is InstaDeep, a London-based firm that bills its products — which leverage AI to solve problems across logistics, energy, biology, and electronic design — as “decision-making.” InstaDeep today announced that it raised $100 million in a funding round led by Google, BioNTech (the company behind Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine), Chimera Abu Dhabi, Deutsche Bahn’s DB Digital Ventures, G42, and Synergie.
InstaDeep was founded in 2014 by Karim Beguir and Zohra Slim in Tunis in North Africa, with little more than two laptops and $2,000. Slim, who’s completely self-taught, was leading a team of developers in India prior to cofounding InstaDeep. Beguir, a graduate of France’s Ecole Polytechnique and former program fellow at NYU’s Courant Institute, is a steering committee member of Deep Learning Indaba, an organization whose mission is to strengthen machine learning and AI in Africa.
Employing GPU-accelerated computing, machine learning, and reinforcement learning, InstaDeep builds AI systems to tackle challenges across a range of industries and organizations. In reinforcement learning, a system is given a set of actions that it can apply to its environment (e.g., a map of possible transit routes). The system — which usually starts knowing nothing about the environment — receives rewards based on how its actions bring it closer to a goal. As the system gradually receives feedback from the environment, it learns sequences of actions that can maximize its rewards.
InstaDeep staffs a team of consultants and data scientists that design AI solutions around a company’s data structure and software architecture. After defining a business objective and piloting an AI solution, InstaDeep helps to implement the solution and provides ongoing support.
InstaDeep developed an AI-accelerated protein design platform, DeepChain, by training AI language models on billions of amino acids — enabling users to discover designs and validate them with molecular simulations. (Protein discovery is a key — albeit typically a time-consuming and expensive key– step in the drug discovery process.) Another of InstaDeep’s platforms, DeepPCB, can automatically create printed circuit board blueprints in less than 24 hours, ostensibly shaving weeks off a process that’s normally completed manually.
InstaDeep recently partnered with Google AI, one of Google’s AI research divisions, to create an early detection system for desert locus outbreaks across the African continent. Desert locust outbreaks — which have become more common following the migration of billions of locusts in 2019 and 2020, after cyclones on the Arabian Peninsula — threaten the food security and livelihoods of millions of people. By combining data from the U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization with climatic and environmental data from NASA and the International Soil Reference and Information Centre, InstaDeep claims it was able to create outbreak-forecasting models that can generalize across many different countries.
InstaDeep has also completed a study with BioNTech that investigated ways AI can be applied to aid in predicting new COVID-19 variants. The “Early Warning System” (EWS) that the two firms prototyped combines structural modeling of the spike protein — the protein that allows the virus to attack cells — with AI algorithms to flag potential high-risk variants. The EWS has identified over 90% of the World Health Organization-designated variants of concern in sequences of the virus uploaded online, InstaDeep claims, including Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Theta, Eta, and Omicron — on average two months in advance.
InstaDeep claims it has worked with other customers to increase efficiency across the industrial supply chain, make decisions on ride-hailing vehicle fleet size, and predict machine failure in factories and warehouses. Currently, the company is pursuing a “moonshot” product to automate railway scheduling with Deutsche Bahn, the largest rail operator and infrastructure owner in Europe.
“[W]e see wide-ranging opportunities to deploy our AI products to tackle complex real-world problems,” Beguir said in a statement. “The funding round is a tremendous vote of confidence from our partners.”
The challenge for InstaDeep, which competes with AI-focused consultancies including Fractal Analytics, is overcoming the institutional barriers to successful AI deployments. In a 2020 survey, O’Reilly found that a lack of knowledge about modeling and data science, understanding business use cases, and data engineering were major blockers in the enterprise. Executives also cited a lack of quality data as a reason that their organization was struggling to successfully implement AI.
Still, the interest — and investment — in AI isn’t waning. According to Gartner, 33% of tech providers plan to invest $1 million or more in AI within the next two years.
“Rapidly evolving, diverse AI technologies will impact every industry,” Gartner managing VP Errol Rasit said in a recent blog post. “Technology organizations are increasing investments in AI as they recognize its potential to not only assess critical data and improve business efficiency, but also to create new products and services, expand their customer base and generate new revenue. These are serious investments that will help to dispel AI hype.”
With the new funds, InstaDeep plans to expand its high-performance computing infrastructure and launch new products in emerging verticals. The company says it’s also aiming to grow its workforce across its offices in Paris, Lagos, Dubai, and Cape Town.
Dune: Awakening made its debut at The Game Awards as an open world survival massively multiplayer online game.
The game from Funcom and Nukklear looks beautiful, full of very detailed imagery of the desert planet Arrakis, also known as Dune. The game asked for beta signups, but we got no other information. Survival is the key word. Dune is a very deadly world, with sandworms and an unforgiving climate.
You can see places in the trailer like the city of Arakeen by day and night, as well as desert biomes and more. It’s not clear when it is coming. With luck, it will be close to the second Dune movie coming in late 2023.
Fighting Game fans are excited now that Capcom announced that Street Fighter 6 is coming to PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S and PC on June 2, 2023. The game was initially announced in February 2022, but that reveal did not include a specific release date beyond 2023.
The trailer at The Game Awards focused on new mini games and the international setting. In addition to the 18 previously announced fighter, the trailer also confirms that several new fighters — Dee Jay, Manon, Marisa and JP — that will join the game’s roster.
Notably, the June 2 release date for Street Fighter 6 may be a strategic choice for Capcom. June is the very beginning of Q3.
The last installment of the franchise — Street Fighter V — released nearly seven years ago so fans have been eager for another installment. A day before The Game Awards, the game’s June release date was leaked via the PlayStation Store.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Entrepreneurship is a daily leap of faith. In times of economic uncertainty, that leap may feel like a dive off a cliff. We are in one of those times. It likely will take months to fully re-adjust to the forces that have pummeled the world’s economy, and to entrepreneurs, months can feel like years.
With the right playbook, entrepreneurs can survive and thrive in whatever economic scenario. Here are five things you can do to propel your business ahead now and through the difficulties of business cycles for years to come.
1. Learn the lessons of more challenging times
A rocky economy presents a unique opportunity to make tough decisions about the business plan. Everything is open to reexamination. How has the market changed? Are your customers facing challenges that create new opportunities for your solutions? How do new conditions change your assumptions, and what actions do you need to take in response?
Critically evaluate your product roadmap. Is this the time to pivot or become more aggressive with your current plans? Prioritize the highest margin features that are achievable in the next twelve months. Push out projects that don’t make that list, and re-assign resources accordingly. Re-assess pricing. Even as inflation tiptoes back from the highest levels in forty years, raw material and transportation costs remain way up. What will impact your customers if you adjust the pricing or add surcharges to offset these costs, at least temporarily?
It’s been a rough year for hiring. Many companies took the talent they could get. If there are employees or gig workers who would fare better in a different job, now is the time to let them go. Make tough-minded corrections that will pay off overall — corrections that might be avoidable in less challenging times.
Venture capitalists are pulling back. In the third quarter, Crunchbase reported that funding for startups in U.S. and Canada fell 50% year-over-year. Valuations are down across the board. If you are fortunate enough to be a later-stage startup that benefited from VC largess in 2021, make your last raise last longer than intended.
Keep your dry powder dry, and put off going for another round until the markets even out. Reemphasize the basics for early-stage companies with less market validation and greater distance between now and a potential exit. Delay all capital expenditures. Leverage the hybrid work model if possible, to reduce rent and other office expenses. Continue with Zoom or Google Meet. Now is not the time to rack up travel costs. Re-negotiate fees and terms with service providers. Seek credit terms with key suppliers, in a word, bootstrap.
3. Talk to customers, in person. Now.
How have the business needs of your customers — whether paying or beta — changed over the last 18 months? Are there benefits to your solution that have more recognized value now? Nearly every business, for example, from corporates to startups, has been forced to re-learn the lessons of supply chain management. Startups that can help their customers make better business decisions based on artificial intelligence (AI), reduce costs by improving inventory management or protect against out-of-stock scenarios by identifying and building relationships with new, more local sources of supply will have an edge.
According to PitchBook, venture capitalists are showing greater interest in portfolio companies “whose satellite, robotics and software tools can do double duty” in military and commercial markets. International conflicts are one reason, of course.
Another is that the defense and military security industries are generally viewed as recession-proof. Our firm routinely encourages portfolio companies to consider non-dilutive funding from the Small Business Administration — grants to support cutting-edge technologies range from $150,000 to more than $1 million.
Navigating the application process isn’t for the faint of heart. A startup must be realistic about the work involved, but in many states, there are resources to help. Besides the funding, severe responses to agency requests for proposals are reviewed and evaluated by technologists. At a minimum, this can be terrific feedback and a great source of industry contacts.
5. Blue-chip cultures attract blue-chip talent
Company culture can be an asset or a liability. An inclusive, rich culture helps key hires say yes. Finding stakeholders that believe what you believe and are aligned with your team’s values significantly improves the odds that they will stick with you in good times or bad.
After months of “great resignation” fever, the over-heated demand for talent may be cooling off. Maybe offers aren’t as fast or grand as they were a year ago. Maybe Twitter won’t be the only advanced technology business to let people go. Regardless, the search for great talent isn’t a faucet that a young company turns off and on. A startup might modulate the timing or the number of hires but stand at the ready to recruit and filter for culture fit.
With the right mindset and intentional approach, an entrepreneur can make 2023 a year to strive and thrive. As Yogi Berra, my favorite baseball player of all time, said, “Swing at the strikes.” In business, like baseball, the right swing can turn even the most challenging pitch into a hit.