There’s nothing artificial about the round of funding that has been raised by Clinc Inc., an Ann Arbor startup focusing on real-world applications for artificial intelligence.
Clinc was co-founded last July by Jason Mars and Lingjia Tang, assistant professors of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, and by Michael Laurenzano and Johann Hauswald, two doctoral students.
Mars is president and CEO, Tang is COO, Laurenzano is vice president of engineering, and Laurenzano is chief technology officer.
The company has closed on its first funding of $1.2 million, which was based on valuing the startup currently at a market value of $5 million.
Ann Arbor-based Michigan eLab led the round, investing $1 million. It was joined by Chicago-based Hyde Park Venture Partners and Ann Arbor-based Cahoots Holdings LLC.
Mars, 32, runs a lab at UM called Clarity-Lab, which, according to its website, stands for “cross-layer architectures and run times in 10 years.” Clinc was originally called Clarity Lab Inc.
While at UM, Mars and his team developed an open-source digital person assistant akin to Siri, but smarter, they claimed, called Sirius.
Mars said Apple wasn’t amused by the name, and not wanting to tangle with a company that has billions in cash on hand, changed its name to Lucida.
In the sky, the star Sirius is also known as the Dog Star. Lucida is Latin for the brightest star in a constellation.
“Jason is a brilliant guy. Very charismatic and energetic,” said Guy Suter, one of Cahoots Holdings’ principals and CEO of Ann Arbor-based Notion AI Inc. While still an executive atBarracuda Networks in Ann Arbor in 2010, Suter co-founded Ann Arbor-based Nutshell Inc., which develops software to help companies with their customer-relationship management.
Notion is his newest endeavor. It has released an app for Android and Apple devices that uses artificial intelligence to help organize e-mail, learning from users over time what is or isn’t important.
He isn’t just a passive investor in Clinc, but is a customer as well, using its research to improve Notion’s artificial intelligence capabilities.
“Jason has been working on the theoretical side of artificial intelligence for years. This is a great relationship for us,” said Suter. “He can help Notion, and we can give him advice on how to run a startup.”
“Jason and his team are some of the most creative leaders in artificial intelligence, and what I like about them is they are really swinging for the fences,” said Doug Neal, a managing partner at eLab.
Neal said that Clinc’s work will be at the heart of the hottest sector in IT, the so-called Internet of Things where sensors will connect people with their devices, machines and appliances.
“There’s a lot of opportunity in that space,” he said.
Another early customer is Bankjoy, a Silicon Valley startup launched in 2014 to provide mobile banking applications for credit unions and small banks that until now haven’t been able to afford the quality of mobile banking that large banks can afford.
Clinc is building app features for Bankjoy that learn from a customer’s spending habits or tailor what is offered based on his or her preferences.
“We started in fintech (financial technology) because there’s a need for tech. There’s a void in that sector,” he said he. “We’re shooting for intelligence that can say, ‘I’ve organized your life for you.’ ”
Before arriving at UM in 2013, Mars and Tang were assistant professors at the University of California, San Diego. While still a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia in 2008, Mars met a Google Inc. executive named Robert Hundt, who was in charge of the tools Google uses to track the performance of the company’s massive computing centers.
Mars started spending his summers at Google, looking for ways to help it improve its computer efficiencies. In 2013, Mars, Hundt and Tang published a paper titled Optimizing Google’s Warehouse Scale Computers, which was presented at the 19th International Symposium on High-Performance Computer Architecture in Shenzhen, China.
(Mars co-authored 18 publications between 2012-1025, with a partial list including An Open End-to-End Voice and Vision Personal Assistant and Its Implications for Future Warehouse Scale Computers; Adrenaline: Pinpointing and Reining in Tail Queries with Quick Voltage Boosting;HaPPy: Hyperthread-Aware Power Profiling Dynamically; and Enabling Fair Pricing on High Performance Computer Systems with Node Sharing.)
The summers at Google aligned with Mars’ interest in artificial intelligence, and his work on making Google’s computing more efficient aligned with making artificial intelligence smarter and more intuitive.
In December 2014, Mars and Tang were invited to talk about their work in artificial intelligence at the Institute of Computer Technology in Beijing.
Mars said he wanted to go to UM because the school “is the best place in the world for the research I do.” He also has local ties. He lived briefly in Detroit and Southfield while growing up, and his father, Perry Mars, is a professor emeritus of political science at Wayne State University.Read Original Article