Microsoft Ventures: Making the long bet on AI + people

Today, I’m excited to share another significant commitment by Microsoft to democratize AI: a new Microsoft Ventures fund for investment in AI companies focused on inclusive growth and positive impact on society. I also have an update about the growth of our overall portfolio of companies.

AI holds great promise to augment human capabilities and improve society by tackling some of the world’s biggest problems. Our recently announced partnership with OpenAI is a key example of us working to use AI to address important issues such as climate change, inequality, health and education. Building on that, our participation in the Partnership on AI, and other efforts, we’ll make investments in startups that are responsibly harnessing the promise of AI to empower people and businesses. Companies in this fund will help people and machines work together to increase access to education, teach new skills and create jobs, enhance the capabilities of existing workforces and improve the treatment of diseases, to name just a few examples.

Not long ago our CEO Satya Nadella outlined principles and goals for AI: AI must be designed to assist humanity; be transparent; maximize efficiency without destroying human dignity; provide intelligent privacy and accountability for the unexpected; and be guarded against biases. These principles guide us as we move forward with this fund.

The first investment from this fund is Element AI, an incubator and platform that helps organizations embrace an AI-first strategy in support of these principles. Based in Montreal, Canada, the Element AI team is composed of academic researchers with strong connections across the top research labs in North America. Together with Element AI, we can connect human and machine intelligence to fuel powerful solutions.

With today’s news, Microsoft Ventures expands our original mandate of supporting cloud companies that help enterprises navigate digital transformation. This new fund will make investments of similar size to previous Microsoft Ventures investments, and will only include businesses with promise for strong financial returns (as opposed to non-profits or NGOs). We expect our overall pace of investments will accelerate.

Since forming the team earlier this year, we’ve already immersed ourselves in the global startup community – with investments in 19 inspiring companies. Following my last update in October, we’ve not only added Element AI to the list, but, we’ve also closed the following five investments in the U.S. and one in Israel:

  • i3 Equity Partners – an investment vehicle dedicated to early-stage investments in Israeli IoT startups
  • Zipwhip – a SaaS provider that enables businesses to send and receive text messages on existing landline, VoIP and toll-free phone numbers
  • Paxata – a platform provider that enables business analysts with an enterprise-grade, self-service data preparation system
  • xAd – a location intelligence software company that helps marketers unlock opportunities in the 90 percent of retail transactions that are still completed offline
  • Dynamic Signal – a communications platform company that increases productivity and employee engagement with timely, relevant content across multiple channels and devices
  • Tact – a sales experience platform that transforms a salesperson’s connected device into an AI-powered smart assistant

We’ll continue to partner early with entrepreneurs who are breaking through, leading change and making a positive impact as the technology landscape evolves.

As I reflect on the progress that Microsoft Ventures has made since I joined the company and began the fund earlier this year, I’m incredibly proud to be part this organization. We are providing resources to positively impact the startup ecosystem, the tech industry and people around the world. I’m looking forward to a great 2017.