Microsoft Ventures Invests in Startups Element AI, CognitiveScale

Microsoft renews its AI investment push by pouring additional funds into Canadian firm Element AI and adding to CognitiveScale's coffers.

Microsoft Ventures

Microsoft has increased its venture investment in Element AI, a Montreal-based artificial intelligence (AI) startup and incubator working on commercial-grade AI systems.

On June 14, Element AI announced it had raised a staggering $102 million in a Series A round of financing, a record for an AI company. The round was led by Data Collective and backed by notable technology heavyweights, including Intel Capital, Nvidia, Tencent and Microsoft Ventures, the Redmond, Wash. software giant's investment arm.

Also contributing funds to Element AI's record-setting round were Real Ventures, Development Bank of Canada, Fidelity Investments Canada, Hanwha Investment, National Bank of Canada and several sovereign wealth funds.

Microsoft had already made a strategic investment in Element AI late last year as part of a broader push to engage with the burgeoning AI startup community. Under the terms of the deal, Element AI gained access to Microsoft's massive cloud and its cadre of researchers, who have been making some major AI strides of their own lately. Financial details of that initial round of financing were not disclosed.

Also this week, Microsoft Ventures was named as one of the firms that had participated in a $15 million investment in CognitiveScale, an Austin, Texas AI software provider for financial services, commerce and healthcare organizations. Intel Capital, Norwest Venture Partners, the Westly Group and USAA also contributed financing. To date, the firm has attracted more than $50 million in investments.

"This round of funding demonstrates continued confidence in our strategy to help businesses augment and extend human creativity and capabilities," said Akshay Sabhikhi, CEO of CognitiveScale in a June 13 announcement. "We have delivered real and measurable outcomes with some of the largest banks, healthcare and retail organizations, and are delighted to see the great client and investor demand for our enterprise AI products."

Despite backing these and other AI startups in recent weeks, Microsoft's investment strategy isn't solely focused on AI. Cyber-security is also a priority.

Microsoft Ventures also took part in Trusona's recent $10 million Series B financing round, along with existing investor Kleiner Perkins. Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Trusona provides secure identity authentication technologies that align with Microsoft's goal of eliminating passwords.

"Identity management is a critically important and growing space," said Nagraj Kashyap, corporate vice president, Microsoft Ventures, in a June 13 announcement. "Helping businesses and consumers move toward a safer and more secure digital world is a priority for Microsoft. We believe in the work Trusona is doing to give their enterprise clients peace of mind when it comes to data protection."

Killing passwords can help businesses get rid of one of the most common causes of data breaches.

Stolen user and password pairs are increasingly coming back to haunt organizations. A recent study by security and vulnerability specialist Rapid7 found authentication- and credential-based attacks were hackers' preferred method of gaining unauthorized access to enterprise networks during the first quarter of 2017.

Finally, open source security and compliance management company WhiteSource announced on June 14 that it had raised $10 million in a Series B round, led by 83North and backed by Microsoft Ventures and Greylock Partners' David Strohm.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...