If necessity is the mother of invention, then a family's need to be together in Bridgewater was the launch pad for a Nova Scotian high tech company that's about to take off on the global artificial intelligence (AI) market.
Singolar Inc. recently was selected by the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) platform to participate in the Onboarding/Business-to-Business program in California. Founded by Bridgewater resident Suman Kalyan and based in Wolfville, Singolar is the only company from the Maritimes among the 12 Canadian companies the Canadian Trade Commission (CTC) will host at RocketSpace Inc. in San Fransisco.
The CTC will fund office space at RocketSpace Inc. in San Fransisco for the company. It will also assist in connecting Singolar with business development and marketing mentors as well as venture capitalists in the U.S., who may be willing to help finance the up to $1.5 million, which Kalyan says the company needs to develop and bring its product to market.
Kalyan said the whole reason he started Singolar was because he wanted to be with his wife and children who were living in the Bridgewater area. Originally from India, he had spent the previous four years based in Toronto operating under a work visa, first as a consultant for the global information technology services company IGATE, and then as a consultant for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. He commuted weekly to visit his family in Nova Scotia, and in 2013 decided enough was enough.
"My kids were growing up and I was missing all their childhood," Kalyan said, adding that his wife, Sangeeta Kalyan, a radiologist at the South Shore Regional Hospital, was finding it hard to manage with their two boys.
Although he was skeptical he would find a job in Halifax suited to his skills and interest, he told himself, "It's time to quit. I need to be here.'"
That's when he decided to launch his own company.
"It was pretty much the only option, as I saw it," he explained. "The decision kind of was made by itself. "
Now a landed immigrant, Kalyan says, "In a nutshell, the idea I came up with was, how cool would it be to have something like a Siri for business analytics? A Siri for decision-making."
Siri is Apple's voice-controlled personal assistant that first appeared on the iPhone 4S. It's a computer program that works as a knowledge navigator. The feature uses a natural language user interface to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions by delegating requests to a set of Web services.
Since AI and analytics are becoming more and more prevalent in industry, he wondered how he could use his experience, and AI as a concept, to solve business problems and challenges that are typical to companies to major companies such as the telecoms.
He has plenty of experience in both technology, and business development and management, which put him in a unique position to be able to solve business problems using technology.
"A lot of people either understand technology or they understand business," he said. "So that was my strength," He adds that he's also "very analytical."
Kalyan received a master of science in 1996 from the Indian Institute for Technology, which he describes as a premier institution along the lines of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston.
"I was really fascinated with probability and statistics. Working with numbers and being able to make predictions," he recalls, adding that his thesis question was, "How do you use artificial neural networks to do forecasting?"
He describes artificial neural networks as a "specialized form of computing in which you try to mimic the human brain in its processing. So the human brain, the way it works is not like a computer, it looks at images. It looks at sights, it looks at sounds. And it learns. It learns from what it sees and hears. So it's a different kind of computing paradigm."
It was when Sangeeta landed a fellowship in body imaging at Dalhousie University in 2009 and began a year's training and testing for her Canadian credentials as a radiologist at the QEII hospital, that Nova Scotia became a potential new home for the family. Previously, Suman and Sangeeta and their two school-aged sons were living in Toronto.
"I didn't like it there," Sangeeta said. "It's just too much. Where we were living there were two lockdowns in that North York area. I said, 'This doesn't seem like a very safe place for children to grow up in.'"
After she finished her fellowship and accepted a position at Bridgewater's South Shore Regional Hospital, she never looked back.
"This is amazing. I love the Maritimes," she says.
Recognizing Nova Scotia has a number of reputable universities, such as Dalhousie, Acadia and St. Mary's, Suman decided there was a good pool of skilled labor in the province from which to draw upon to build a business. He contacted Acadia University for support in connecting with the right people to initiate and develop his AI product.
He later was recruited by the university's Dr. Danny Silver, director of the Acadia Institute for Data Analysis, to become a tenant in Acadia's Rural Innovation Centre. And, according to Kalyan, Silver now acts as an advisor to Singolar.
Kalyan also drew upon "really helpful tools" from government agencies, such as funding plans offered by the federal government's Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and Innovocorp, Nova Scotia's early stage venture capital organization.
Last November, the company signed a partnership with Azorus Inc. of Halifax, to pilot an enhanced customer relationship recruitment tool with three universities, Warwick and Leicester Universities in the U.S., and Toronto's Ryerson University. Once testing is complete, Singolar anticipates selling the software to universities and colleges around the world.
With two Acadia university co-op students working at Singolar, in addition to the management team, the company hopes to have 10 full-time employees in Wolfville by the end of this year.
With Canadian funding programs typically offering $100,000 to $200,000, Kalyan realized it was going to be difficult to raise the $1.5 million needed to take the company to its next stage in Atlantic Canada.
"I said, 'Maybe this is not the right place to raise capital. It's a great place to set up your business in terms of getting a good labor pool, so I started looking at Silicon Valley and India and other options for funding this entire thing.'"
As part of that strategy, Kalyan and his partners decided company should apply for the CTA program, which puts them in the realm of so called-IT angels in the Silicon Valley.
Meanwhile, on the home page of Singolar's website, the company features a quote from renowned futurist Ray Kurzeil:
"Artificial intelligence will reach human levels by around 2029. Follow that out further to, say, 2045, we will have multiplied the intelligence, the human biological machine intelligence of our civilization a billion-fold."
As Kalyan and Singolar move forward, it's fair to say that part of that intelligence will have been sparked in Bridgewater.