Richard Tolcher and John Taylor of action.ai joined 15 other AI companies on two EEN visits to Silicon Valley and Toronto. They discuss the benefits.
Spending time with other high-profile founders of AI start-ups proved to be priceless and something that exceeded our expectations.
What encouraged you to attend both Global Business Accelerator Programme (GBAP) visits?
action.ai is interested in the US and Canadian markets from a commercial perspective and a technical resource perspective. The problem our company solves is one of the hardest problems in AI and so generating technical contacts with expertise in this space can be invaluable; Toronto and neighbouring Waterloo are hotbeds of talent owing to the AI programmes taught at universities and the ecosystem that has grown from them.
Our trip to San Francisco was more commercially driven and it opened new conversations with several companies, including a global insurance company and a global consumer business.
Did you have any expectations before visiting each of the regions?
It was our first trip to Canada and we liked the attitude of the people we met - arguably a culture closer to that of the UK when compared with the US. The AI scene outstripped our expectations. The country seems like a great place to live culturally and economically. When you go, wrap up tight when the sun dips: Canada’s lowest recorded temperature is as cold as Mars!
How did EEN support you before and during your visits?
Sandra, our adviser for Toronto, is a very experienced and organised mentor and business leader. It was very useful to discuss challenges and opportunities with her throughout the trip and she has provided continued support. On the San Francisco trip the support was equally strong and professional.
What support did you receive after you returned to the UK?
Both EEN, Innovate UK and Newable offer us continued support and have been effective in maintaining communication with action.ai about opportunities and the support available. For example, they are organising meetings with a Canadian investment house visiting the UK. They work to close deals for us. It's a strong and supportive network that is appreciated and valuable.
What was specifically rewarding from making both visits?
Spending time in Toronto and San Francisco has helped validate our product in the international market. action.ai spends considerable time with European clients and it was valuable to understand the broader landscape, both competitively and from a commercial standpoint.
Spending time with other high-profile founders of AI start-ups proved to be priceless and something that exceeded our expectations. We were able to share war stories and successes, as well as technical knowledge at the highest levels.
Bringing together companies that are leading the UK’s AI scene provided opportunities to share challenges and successes and to build a network that is ongoing. The trips were well organised and provided introductions that might otherwise have been hard to gain (and certainly challenging to establish from the UK). It is always better to be with like-minded entrepreneurs when assessing new markets and the support of Innovate UK, EEN, and Newable was excellent.
Has the programme enabled you to implement any solutions to your business?
Significant business development opportunities arose on the trips to both Toronto and Silicon Valley, including with two large banks and a global insurance company. In addition, exposure to the markets encouraged us to think more internationally regarding our commercial strategy and potential re-location to the US and Canada. Before establishing an office in either geography we would seek at least one major client to justify the investment (and to validate the technology).