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Thrive is set up by Funding London, a venture capital company bridging the finance gap for early stage businesses based in London. With over a decade’s experience in supporting the startups of London through a variety of funding vehicles, Funding London sensed a need to illuminate the ever-evolving scenario of London’s early stage businesses.

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Winning Minds in Montreal and London

About

Maria is the CEO and co-founder of Winningminds.ai. She has a strong professional experience in strategy and innovation based on emerging technologies and scientific trends. Her rich academic background includes a BSc in Biology, a MSc in Biotechnology (Reading University), a Policy Making & Lobbying Diploma (Michigan University), a MBA (Liverpool University), and an AI in Business Strategy Executive Program Certificate (MIT). Maria has 9 years’ experience in the corporate environment as an innovation and policy maker manager (Coca Cola Company, GSK, McCormick) and 7-years as a co-founder and advisor of tech start-ups. Her work focuses on the application of cognitive sciences in organisational behaviour. Maria is leading the research programmes conducted by WinningMinds.ai in collaboration with Universities and Research Institutes in Canada and Europe. The research covers the fields of neuroeconomics, behaviour analysis, neurolinguistics, embodied cognitive artificial intelligence, learning and emotional psychology. She is also an adjunct professor of Neuromarketing courses in UK Universities.

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WinningMinds

18 December 2018

Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey and how WinningMinds began?

We started two years ago, after four years of research.  My Co-founder Dimi and I set up a consulting firm in 2012  designing employee performance training tools. Both of us came from different worlds,  myself from science, innovation and corporate, Dimi from performance modelling and training world.  By 2016 we realised we couldn’t scale-up and the only way to grow was to work with technology.  With my background in neuroscience and innovation technology we started looking at scaling-up and realised the perfect fit was to use our behavioural expertise and develop an AI platform. In 2016 we completed our research, designed the end to end platform and in 2017 launched WinningMinds. We completed our first angel round in September 2018, and now we have just closed our Seed round too.

What do you aim to achieve with WinningMinds?

At WinngMinds we are building an AI platform to support decision making for business leaders. We are focusing on generating performance intelligence to complement the decision-making process for corporate business leaders.  We know how leaders make decisions, and now we want to compliment the process by blending the behavioural element with the human factor.  As we all know, business needs much more than data to be successful.

Currently, we are a team of ten, split between our Canadian and London offices, and constantly grow. We’ll be looking for people with strong academic qualifications, who are on top of the latest research or have prior professional experience

What makes you stand out from the crowd/your competitors?

We are developing our AI model in 2 areas.  Firstly we are building an AI model based on real smart data, i.e. data captured in meetings in a real context, which differentiates us from creating a model based on big data. Secondly, we are analysing and measuring the social and emotional intelligence of employees.  We have decided to consciously move away from the prominent five personality traits, which we find old-fashioned and incongruent with real-life scenarios. People change depending on the situation; therefore, we are building our own datasets which are relevant to business needs. We have built everything from scratch, ensuring the relevance and accuracy of our model.

What is your vision/dream for WinningMinds?

Our big dream at WinningMinds is to be the virtual advisor to business leaders of corporates and Fortune 500.  We want WinningMinds to be the augmented Al solution, supporting investment in better talent and higher performing teams. We want to disrupt the high-end leadership executive field which hasn’t been touched by digitisation at all. We aim to do this by increasing speed, innovation and offering new insights. We also want  WinningMinds to be the tool business leaders apply to make better decisions.

What is your view of the Tech landscape, especially in London?

It just so happens, we know two Tech ecosystems exceptionally well. One here in London and one in Montreal, where we have our second office. I love the ecosystem here in London.  It is very mature, people are tech-savvy and you get exposure to a vast amount of expertise. For me, London is the most efficient and effective ecosystem to set up your business. It supports growth and encourages competition at a global level.  Other markets in Europe focus mainly on the local and national outlook.  Here in London, you start straight away with a global vision, and when it comes to technology, we have pretty much everything at our fingertips. You can find vast amounts of innovation, it’s easy to keep on top of current trends and you liberate synergies as everyone is helping each other. I have to praise our three investment funds for their knowledge and support.  LCIF, in particular, ensures you are part of the inner circle of the ecosystem which is invaluable.

Montreal is a new ecosystem, they are very open to hearing ideas, fantastic in technology and it has still retained its humility.  You can talk to people, exchange ideas, you are part of the initial discussions and the people are exceptionally kind.  We expect Montreal to give us the entry point to the US market.

What are some of the most exciting innovations you have come across in your space?

When it comes to AI, people now realise you also need input from other fields to be successful.  AI has made significant breakthroughs helped by the advances in neuroscience. Over the past 5-6 years, there has been the most activity in the field I have ever seen in my academic life. The next area of development will be the analogue computer processing which tries to simulate the brain activity. This means innovation in hardware to find exciting ways of working with the brain.  Let’s also not forget the developments in AI and quantum physics, which is utterly fascinating. The innovations happening right now are incredible.

What are the biggest challenges that tech start-ups and early-stage businesses should prepare themselves for post Brexit?

The problem with Brexit it’s the unknown which creates enormous instability.  No one knows what will happen with investment. Will people spend or fear investing? And what about grants?  I have no clue what will happen, and I’m apprehensive about the availability of extra funding if we need to carry out more research. I’m concerned about shortage of talent too. London will become very expensive after Brexit so I am not sure if people will be willing to make such sacrifice  and if they’ll go through the hassle of getting a visa etc.

I think the challenges in the future will be the regulatory complexity and not having a clear understanding of the trading/operational system.  I wouldn’t, therefore, want for the UK and London to lose its great entrepreneurial profile. From the financial services to tax benefits, everything is so easy here. I hope we don’t lose this advantage, this is my biggest concern.

How easy/difficult is it to raise finance in London in 2018?

To be honest, it’s not very easy, mainly because of the instability we have with Brexit.  The requirements needed for fundraising are also increasing.  You need a product/idea, you have to have  customers, a great team and historical tractions all on the table.  This is a lot for an early stage company. At WinningMinds we were fortunate and secured three fantastic investors (LCIF, Startupfundingclub, AISeed and RLC Ventures) purely on the innovation of our product. The next stage of fundraising, I’m sure, will be more comfortable  because we have done it before and have a track record. Many people believe having a start-up is such a cool idea,  you bring together a bunch of friends and start working on a plan.  However, this way of thinking doesn’t grow you a successful business. A start-up should be an exciting business proposition, with different rules from a corporate or any new business.  After lots of hard work, I can confidently say WinningMinds is on the right path of success.

What advice would you give to new start-ups about to raise investment?

For me, this goes back to the founders. What I learned with my Co-founder, is that you need a significant mind shift from a product owner to CEO of a successful business. In the beginning we all start as an expert on our product and its innovation and you think that’s all you need!  However, it’s important to realise you have to present your product as a serious business opportunity. This is my most significant learning and is what I tell entrepreneurs when they are starting out.  Always ask the question: “Can you build a business out of that?”

How do you see the AI landscape developing over the next five years?

I think natural language processing is going to play a massive role for the next five years to advance AI and applications. It is a core aspect of AI to improve many business applications and create better data sets. This is where the focus will need to be to ensure that AI becomes more tangible and practical in real life.

Who do you admire from the business world?

I recognise people for their intelligence, Jeff Bezos for example.  He knows how to do things and it’s impossible to decode him! How does he think and how does he see the future?

I’m much more of a person who admires good decisions and good hindsight instead of people. I believe one of the challenges the start-up world faces is that we create superheroes. I am not fond of this because we are all humans and all good at something.  We shouldn’t be exposed to everything we hear, instead aim to be yourselves and be determined at whatever you do.

Which books would you recommend?

The followings are some of the books that I have enjoyed reading on the subjects of AI and startup growth management.

  • Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and Devops: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations by Nicole Forsgren and Jez Humble;
  • Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World (The MIT Press) by Meredith Broussard;
  • The Deep Learning AI Playbook: Strategy for Disruptive Artificial Intelligence by Carlos Perez;
  • The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie.