AI is one of the game-changing technologies of our time, promising enormous social and economic impact on a regional and global scale. A new initiative to strengthen Germany's role in this global transformation process is the AI Competence Center at AI Campus in Berlin. Launched by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action and run by German Entrepreneurship GmbH, the initiative's mission is to enable the adoption, expansion and internationalization of AI technologies and products developed in Germany's various ecosystems.
We spoke to entrepreneur, advisor, technologist and new managing director Dr Hedi Razavi about the role of the AI Competence Centre, the Beyond Borders Awards, AI as an agent for good and the complementary nature of the two AI ecosystems, San Francisco and Berlin.
Hi Hedi, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Could you please introduce yourself and your connection to AI?
Thanks so much for having me. I’m the managing partner of the AI Competence Center at German Entrepreneurship and based in Silicon Valley.
I’m an engineer by training and started my career applying advanced technologies to medicine. I spent a few years at the Heart Center in Leipzig and worked on new technologies for heart failure patients. I really enjoyed my time living in Germany and I’m excited to be working in a German context again.
While living in Leipzig, I developed an interest in environmental conservation. I remember being surprised when I learned that most of my friends in Leipzig didn’t use dryers and that they only heated one room at a time in winter. This was very different from the way of life I was used to in California. When I moved back to the US, I co-founded a startup to address energy waste in commercial buildings. We developed new AI/ML-based solutions to predict usage patterns and optimize electricity distribution in the building. The experience of leading our AI startup from idea to exit was not only an invaluable learning opportunity, but also the mechanism for me to develop into an AI practitioner.
I continued on that path as a product leader at a leading enterprise AI company for a couple of years and led the development and commercialization of a few AI SaaS products. I joined German Entrepreneurship last year to build a new kind of AI “product” – a Competence Center.
What's the aim of the new AI Competence Centre?
AI is expected to have tremendous societal and economic impacts and is one of the game-changing technologies of our time. According to PwC, AI is expected to contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy in 2030 through increased productivity and consumption-side effects. We launched the AI Competence Center last year to support Germany’s role in and contributions to the AI transformation around the world.
At the AI Competence Center – based at AI Campus Berlin with additional offices in Palo Alto and Singapore – we are on a mission to enable the adoption, expansion, and internationalization of AI technologies and products from Germany around the globe.
We have three mechanisms to accomplish this:
- Empower AI innovators by providing them with AI/ML and product expertise to ensure successful expansion and internationalization of their AI businesses around the world.
- Create a global AI network and enable a multilateral exchange of AI/ML expertise and learnings among three primary AI hubs in the world, including Germany and Europe, Singapore and Asia, and the United States.
- Guide national policies and influence the public’s perception of AI through thought leadership.
An important aspect of the centre is to support AI innovators on a global scale. What is your approach to achieving this, given the programmes the German Accelerator is already running? What is needed to create a truly global AI ecosystem?
The key to successful international expansion is access to a rich network of clients, suppliers, partners, and investors in a new target market. We believe the most effective strategy for empowering AI innovators at startups, SMEs, and corporations is getting connected to local experts and players who share the same enthusiasm about AI and its game-changing potential.
German Accelerator is our most acclaimed program with 10+ years of experience in building a strong global ecosystem that has supported 850+ German startups in their international expansion. At the AI Competence Center, we take advantage of this extensive experience to create a parallel global ecosystem centered around AI that supports AI startups, SMEs, and corporations as they cross borders and expand their business internationally.
German Accelerator takes high-potential German companies on a fast-paced learning journey to understand, discover, access, and expand into the world’s leading innovation hubs in the U.S., Asia, and now South America. Our alumni, including 10 unicorns, have collectively raised a total of $15.6B in funding. The backbone of this remarkable track record has been a global network of 500+ expert mentors who advise and support entrepreneurs with commercial growth of their businesses and expansion to new markets. The one-on-one personalized mentorship sessions focus on customer discovery, product-market-fit evaluations, go-to-market, as well as sales and marketing strategies. At the AI Competence Center, we have expanded the scope of this mentorship approach to also support AI innovators with product development and technology scaling as they expand into new markets.
There are unique considerations for internationalization of AI products to new markets that include differing regulations, data sourcing and access, infrastructure availability, and defensibility. Our AI-focused programs for startups, SMEs, and corporations have been designed to help AI innovators understand, prepare for, and launch their AI-enabled business in new markets.
We currently offer three AI-focused programs:
- Kickstart AI helps AI innovators understand why and how to build a scalable and global AI business right from the early days of their venture.
- Singapore Market Discovery AI supports AI professionals in gaining a solid understanding of the Southeast Asian market, the associated business environments, and the ample Singapore-based resources for AI innovation.+
- The AI Track for Market Access supports AI innovations to expand their business to the US and Southeast Asia with curated content and one-on-one mentoring focused on the scalability of their AI/ML-based products.
We believe a strong network of support for our AI innovators requires real and deep connections. We bring AI founders at startups and AI professionals at SMEs and corporations together with AI experts, mentors, and partners from around the globe. We not only enable new connections and interactions in real life, but also create a rich online community of support for AI innovators.
What are some success stories of European, German or even Berlin-based innovators entering US or Asian markets or partnering with other AI players that you can share with us?
We have the opportunity to work with hundreds of companies every year, helping them establish their business in the US and/or Asia and you can imagine, it’s not an easy task to pick among the many success stories.
We recently highlighted the success of one of our German AI alumni companies, COMPREDICT GmbH. COMPREDICT optimizes maintenance and development processes in vehicles with an AI-based technology, called Virtual Sensors, that replaces hardware sensors with software capable of predicting failures of automotive components. With the help of our programs, the COMPREDICT team was able to expand their business to South Korea with a first pilot customer. They recently raised a €6 million series A funding round to scale their AI Virtual Sensors platform for automotive health and usage monitoring. We celebrate their success and look forward to continuing to support them as they scale their business.
One of our Berlin-based AI startup alumni, Nomitri, has built embedded deep learning vision AI that can run on smartphones and tablets as well as low-energy industry cameras. Their solutions help retailers monitor self-checkout stations and help logistics providers supervise micro-fulfillment processes in warehouses. Through their participation in our US Market Access program, the Nomitri team perfected their pitch to potential investors and had the opportunity to speak to prospective customers in the US.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to shine the spotlight on three of our Berlin-based AI companies currently expanding their business to the US:
- Mediaire GmbH has built deep learning-based solutions for MRI medical imaging.
- Myos offers an ML solution for asset-based finance services.
- IQONIC.AI offers ML-based skin screenings and other custom made AI solutions to ensure personalization, prevention, and affordable healthcare for all.
All three companies have made great progress towards understanding the US market and preparing their AI product for international expansion.
The Beyond Borders Awards kicked off last year and provided a glimpse into the huge potential of the German AI community and ecosystem. What's next for these three start-ups on their expansion journey?
We launched the AI Beyond Borders Awards in 2022 to recognize the top 3 German AI startups that are not only pushing the boundaries in artificial intelligence technology, but also are about to take off on an exciting journey across borders to expand internationally.
An international expert jury carefully selected the winners who presented their businesses to a global audience at the European AI Summit in Munich. There, the Bavarian State Minister for Science and Art, Markus Blume, and Prof. Matthias Notz, CEO of German Entrepreneurship and German Accelerator, presented the awards.
Here are some updates from the winners of our 2022 AI Beyond Borders Awards on their international expansion:
IANUS Simulation GmbH has expanded their AI and simulation network, Simchronize, to more than 50 partnerships across Europe and worldwide. The company is also actively expanding in Europe and setting up new HQs in Poland and Italy to address the large polymer processing market in these countries. They currently have multiple ongoing research projects that expand their AI assets and product portfolio to include numerous new industrial application areas.
Signatrix GmbH is actively exploring various markets in Asia and has plans to participate in our Singapore-based AI program to evaluate the business opportunity for their visual intelligence platform for brick-and-mortar retail stores.
hema.to GmbH is integrating their AI/ML-enabled solution for diagnosis of lymphoma (cancer in the blood) into clinical routines at various labs in Germany and the Netherlands. They are also actively exploring the US market and plan to participate in our Life Sciences-focused program in the US. They will be adding a new product line next year to enable a “one-stop-shop for immune response.”
Increasing diversity in AI beyond training data is the goal of your Remarkable Women in AI event series. Can you tell us more about this? Any particular highlights you would like to mention?
We’re very excited about our “Remarkable Women in AI” initiative that we launched in early 2023 as a series of inspirational, educational, collaborative, and global discussions on gender diversity in AI. Our goal with this effort is to inspire the attendees of all genders to take steps in their respective roles and help to address the gender gap in AI. In collaboration with Transatlantic AI eXchange, we’ve designed the series as a sequence of two virtual panel discussions followed by two hybrid sessions in Berlin on May 8th and in Singapore on September 12th.
Our upcoming hybrid session “Rising to AI Leadership” will be hosted by AI Monday at the AI Campus as part of the AI Month in Germany and has been put together in collaboration with our event partners, namely Berlin Partner, KIEZ, DFKI, and #SheTransformsIT. We’re very excited about the lineup of panelists for this session including Dr. Anna Christmann (German Parliament), Nicole Büttner (Merantix Momentum), Patty Lee (Orbit Health), and Shilpa Kolhatkar (NVIDIA). Sarah Needham (Unique-U) who is an experienced and certified executive advisor and leadership coach, will guide us through an introspective journey to discover opportunities for change in AI leadership. I’m very much looking forward to my trip to Berlin for this event and hope to see you and your readers in person or virtually on May 8th.
The promise of AI as an agent of change for good still holds true today. In what areas do you see AI innovation becoming a real game-changer? On the other hand, what aspects and approaches are flying under the radar and not getting enough attention?
I’m a strong believer that AI/ML, like many other ground-breaking technologies of the past, has the potential of being an enabler of big and positive change in the world but may also require oversight and guidance to reach its highest potential.
In the context of game-changing innovations, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the recent public excitement around generative AI and specifically OpenAI’s ChatGPT. This class of large language models with reinforcement learning offer an incredible and unique opportunity for ordinary citizens to not only use and interface with AI directly, but also benefit from the productivity gains that such new tools can offer. Content generation is an application of AI that carries a lot of promise, and my expectation is that in the very near future, it will be as widely used and adopted as autocomplete and spell-check for texting.
We have also heard a lot about the unexpectedly strange and at times, hostile behavior of AI-enabled search engines. This may have been the result of the tech companies’ rush to claim the first to market title that cut short the testing phase of their generative AI in the lab. That is an example of a situation where additional guidance for the technology developers as well as the end users would most likely be helpful.
Looking beyond the enthusiasm around ChatGPT, I continue to be especially excited about AI-based solutions in medicine and healthcare. AI has the potential to change some of the most fundamental paradigms around the practice of medicine. It promises a future in which therapies are personalized and healthcare is provided in a truly targeted approach based on a patient’s demographics, genetic makeup, environmental exposures, medical history, and many more factors. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US publishes an annual report on the AI/ML-enabled medical devices and the latest published in 2022 lists 500+ approved devices in 16 different areas of medicine including radiology, cardiology, hematology, and neurology. With the increasing number of approved AI/ML-based devices per year, there is an exciting acceleration towards established applications of AI to provide patient care and I’m keeping a close and excited eye on that.
With over 40% of AI innovators based here, Berlin is Germany's AI capital. What sets it apart from other cities and how does it compare to giant hubs like Silicon Valley?
A way to think about the difference between Berlin and other German cities when it comes to AI innovation is to study the AI startups founded in each city. In our experience, it is more common for AI startups from Berlin to focus on the broad application of existing AI solutions to address an unmet market need. In comparison, AI innovations from other cities, especially those with strong technical academic centers such as Munich, tend to be better categorized as deep tech and more closely based on theory and academic research.
As a long-term resident of the Bay Area, it is much easier for me to share observations about Berlin’s and Silicon Valley’s AI scenes. They are similar in their ability to attract a diverse, international, and specialized pool of AI talent that renders them each as an attractive option for the location of AI companies’ headquarters. They both boast of a rich AI ecosystem with various types of players including AI startups, the tech industry, not-for-profit or public research institutions, as well as universities and various academic centers with a focus on AI.
One of the primary differences between the AI ecosystems in Berlin and Silicon Valley is on the investment side. More specifically, there are a lot more AI investors with more capital and more experience in the Bay Area than in Berlin. While the investor gap has been slowly closing in recent years, it contributes to some of the differences in the types of AI innovation that each area fosters. While Berlin is a hotbed of applied AI innovations at the application layer, Silicon Valley is known as the dominant mecca of innovations in AI infrastructure, orchestration layers, and foundational AI.
Thanks very much for your time, Hedi.