When Karim Ali launched his AI startup in Toronto, he never imagined he’d also be getting into the furniture business. And yet, today, he finds himself with a “perfect partner” in Steelcase, one of the world’s largest furniture and architectural technology companies.
“We want to work only with sector leaders,” Karim says. “But if I’m being honest, I didn’t see the opportunity with Steelcase at first.
MaRS encouraged us to think outside the box; now Steelcase is one of our banner clients.
Founded in 2017, Invision AI provides companies with affordable AI-powered software that generates real-time insights based on facial recognition, object tracking and analytics, among other inputs. And because the tech operates on edge devices (gadgets like routers that allow access to larger online networks), clients have no need to buy expensive hardware or rely on cloud uploads. Put simply, Invision AI’s software can save money while reducing memory and data storage space.
Karim always assumed that his innovations were best suited for high-profile industries like security and autonomous vehicles. But he gained new perspective when MaRS advisors thought outside that box and introduced him to the world of office furniture and equipment.
“Karim is incredibly intelligent and I saw a commonality in his thinking and that of Steelcase,” says Sonia Lagourgue, director of corporate innovation at MaRS. “Having worked extensively with Steelcase as a corporate partner, I could see the two companies were trying to solve the same problems — they just didn’t know it.”
Seeing potential for a unique collaboration, Sonia invited Karim to a MaRS innovation showcase. There, Karim pitched Steelcase CEO James P. Keane, along with members of his team that accelerate corporate development through startup partnerships. Karim did not disappoint. “Invision AI set the standard for startups going forward,” says Chris Palmer, New Business Innovation specialist at Steelcase. “They were clear, professional and focused. And they were honest about what was and wasn’t possible if we used their tech.”
Indeed, Invision AI’s work with Steelcase was as much about practical applications as it was testing hypotheses. Steelcase wants to enhance the way people live and work in space — increase productivity and collaboration; promote physical and mental wellness; eliminate crowded workspaces and optimize underutilized areas. Karim’s tech could sense and respond to Steelcase’s test spaces to produce insights about office design and improve the accuracy of existing products. For Chris, the best part of the experiment was working with Karim and his team: “I really enjoyed them. They delivered on what they said they would and were always collaborative.”
Invision AI set the standard for startups going forward
Today, smart office solutions are a pillar of Invision AI’s offerings and a key part of their growth strategy. While the company expanded from two to twelve employees and reported revenues of roughly $500,000 in 2018, this coming year Karim projects multi-million-dollar revenues and many new hires.
Going forward, Karim wants to keep working with MaRS. Through the MaRS network, he’s already been able to secure discounted and pro bono legal services from Norton Rose Fulbright (a six-figure savings), access curated market research and insights, and collaborate with AVIN at MaRS, an $80-million program designed to reinforce Ontario’s position as a leader in transportation technology and infrastructure systems. And still, Karim wants more.
“Innovation hubs are absolutely crucial for young companies like Invision AI,” says Karim. “Our long-term success goes hand in hand with MaRS.”