Mavericks and Movers: The brains behind 2017’s top-five venture capital deals
By Rob Blackstien
There is nothing synthetic about Jean-François Gagné’s expertise in artificial intelligence (AI). Having already founded and successfully exited two companies in AI and operations research, he co-founded Montreal-based Element AI in 2016 and, as its CEO, is often asked to help educate top-level management about the impact of AI. But before becoming a serial entrepreneur, he was the youngest global C-level executive at a top 20 enterprise software firm when he was chief product officer and chief innovation officer at JDA Software Group Inc.
Gagné’s vision for Element AI is to create a new model for developing AI through a “collaborative, non-exploitative” model that will benefit all. It’s an approach that has caught the eye of none other than the world’s biggest software company, Microsoft Corp., one of Element AI’s investors. In June, Element closed a US$102-million financing round led by San Francisco venture-capital fund Data Collective.
Aside from Gagné, there’s some serious brainpower at work behind Element, with more than 70 PhDs on staff, including university fellows, applied researchers and developers, all of whom try to show companies how they can successfully embrace and adopt AI solutions. “We’re painting a very clear picture of what new customers need to do in order to stay ahead of the curve,” Gagné says.
Charles Boulanger has a rather comprehensive list when discussing his secrets of success. “To succeed in business, you must know yourself,” says the CEO of LeddarTech, a Quebec City-based company founded in 2007 that makes solid-state Lidar (SSL), a sensing technology primarily used in the transportation industry. He says ambition, audacity and a strong belief in your own ideas also rank up there, but, most importantly, you need a plan. “Many entrepreneurs have a vision, but lack a plan,” he says. “A solid plan is the key stepping stone to executing a winning vision.”