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A new competition wants to find the entrepreneurs creating the future of AI

Entrepreneurs who push the boundaries of artificial intelligence are being invited to enter a Microsoft-backed competition that will hand out a total of $5.5 million in funding and cloud credits.

Innovate.AI has been launched to find start-ups that are developing cutting-edge AI for intelligent apps, services or platforms to help companies and society.

Microsoft Ventures, the corporate venture arm of the company, has teamed up with venture capital firms Madrone Venture Group, Notion Capital and Vertex Ventures Israel to run the competition in North America, Europe and Israel.

One start-up per region will be handed $1 million in venture funding and $500,000 in Microsoft Azure credits. In addition to those three winners, the AI for Good prize will see a further $500,000 from Microsoft Ventures and $500,000 in Azure credits handed to the applicant that can show the best use of AI to improve society.

“At Microsoft, the future is rooted in the advancement of AI technologies,” said Nagraj Kashyap, Corporate Vice-President of Microsoft Ventures. “We’re excited to launch this competition with a strong group of venture capitalists that recognizes the importance of leveraging these technologies to amplify human ingenuity and power innovation in AI forward.”

Up to 10 finalists will qualify from each region for a chance to pitch their innovation in person as each vies for a chance to win the prizes.

Start-ups have until December 31 to submit their entry but will only be considered if they have raised less than $4 million in combined equity funding and/or loans at day of application. They must also introduce a product, service or platform that utilizes or intends to utilize AI techniques, as defined by relevant scientific research.

“Start-ups are already able to create significant businesses based on AI at the platform and application levels,” said S Somasegar, Managing Director of Madrona, which manages more than $1.3 billion. “Now that they are leveraging emerging AI platforms, opportunities are increasing to create not only a great business, but one that has a strong and positive impact on society.

“As partners with our companies, we work every day to foster the kind of innovation that will change lives, and we are excited to work with Microsoft Ventures to identify passionate founders and teams that will build the next generation of intelligent applications.”

Since launching Microsoft Ventures last year, Microsoft has invested in more than 40 start-ups, including AI innovators such as Agolo, Bonsai, Crowdflower and Livongo. It also formed an AI fund to support start-ups focused on inclusive growth and a positive impact on society.

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Chrysanthos Chrysanthou, a Partner at Notion Capital, said the UK is one of the leading countries in Europe for AI. “There’s a lot of talent in Europe. We’re based in the UK which, in our opinion, is the motherland of Europe when it comes to machine learning research and AI talent,” he said. “We also have companies in Switzerland and in France, which are also great places for AI research. If you ask me, the UK, France and Switzerland are probably the top three destinations in Europe for AI talent and companies across the board using those technologies.”

Further details about the Innovate.AI competition can be found on the Microsoft Ventures application website.