How Cohere, an AI startup co-founded by A&S alumni landed $170M of funding in a year

May 9, 2022 by Startup Here Toronto Lora Grady

Cohere CEO Aidan Gomez (BSc 2018) has always been fascinated by computers. He followed his dreams all the way to Google Brain, the company’s research division that works on artificial intelligence. In 2019, he founded Cohere with his colleague, Nick Frosst (BSc 2016), and Ivan Zhang, another AI expert. Their goal: Make natural language processing — the complex tech which makes chatbots run — more accessible to developers.

The company emerged from stealth mode a year ago and quickly secured $170 million (U.S.) through two funding rounds. Among their investors is Geoff Hinton, a well-respected expert in artificial intelligence and former mentor to Gomez and Frosst at Google Brain. Now, Cohere is expanding into the U.S. with an office in California headed up by a former Apple executive.

Here’s how Gomez and his team achieved all of this in less than three years.

The pitch: Cohere is aiming to become the default platform developers use to create NLP systems. Today, to build a chatbot or search application, you need to be a machine learning engineer with a PhD. But we need to lower the bar for developers to be able to build these systems. And in order to do that, Cohere is building a toolkit for developers that's accessible and focused on the use cases that they want to build NLP systems for. It's about getting more people building and experimenting with this technology.

The “aha” moment: I was working at Google Brain for about three years as part of the team that created a new network architecture for the NLP space. I noticed that most people couldn’t apply NLP technology due to the lack of access to resources and the very scarce talent needed to leverage it. Cohere was founded to increase accessibility to this kind of technology for developers — not just specialized NLP experts. So, whether you're a developer on the front end or the back end, whether you're doing web, or mobile, anyone can build NLP into an application.

On landing two rounds of funding in less than a year: NLP is blowing up. There’s such a high demand for better NLP and more of it. I think it’s just really captured the imagination of developers and that's what spurred the interest and our growth rate.

How it feels to receive $170 million in investment: The thing I'm really excited about is the validation and the opportunity to actually sit down, build an amazing team, grow this company and put the tech into more developers’ hands. These investments enable that. The money itself is just a necessary component in order to get access to resources, hire great people, expand our presence and grow.

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