These 14 AI Startups Are Vying for a Piece of $1.5 Million in Prizes

by Jamie Beckett

Big dreams. Bright lights. And a peek at the future of AI.

Welcome to NVIDIA’s AI startup challenge.

In a rapid-fire panoply of pitches, more than a dozen emerging AI companies vied to win over skeptical judges and take home a chunk of the $1.5 million in cash prizes we’re handing out at our GPU Technology Conference next month.

The awards are a first for our eight-month-old Inception virtual accelerator program, which supports 1,300 fledgling businesses revolutionizing industries with AI. The prize purse is believed to be one of the richest for any startup competition.

Athelas was one of 14 companies in the Inception AI startup competition.
Tanay Tandon, founder of Athelas, explains the company’s health-monitoring device, which allows users to measure their white blood count at home.

“This is about selecting the best and most promising AI startups,” said NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang in remarks kicking off Pitch Day. He is a member of the all-star judging panel that will choose the top teams.

Winners will be announced at the Inception Awards Gala on May 10 during GTC, the world’s most important GPU developer conference. The cash – and the acclaim – could be game-changing for a young company.

Pitch Day

Here’s how things went on Pitch Day: Inside San Francisco’s luxuriously hip W Hotel, each contestant stood before the judges – execs from Goldman Sachs, Fidelity Management, Microsoft Accelerator, SoftBank and Coatue Management, as well as Huang.

Some of the companies are Bay Area-based; others came from as far away as Bangalore, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Munich. Their mission was the same: to prove why their company can win an industry and change the world with AI.

The entrepreneurs had minutes to make their pitch before braving a barrage of questions from the judges. These generally focused on three crucial topics: How will you make money, what makes you special and what about competitors?

“It’s like speed dating for startups,” said Mike Perozek, who heads sales and marketing at, which aims to make construction safer with image recognition and analytics.

The CEO of Focal Systems explains his company's deep learning for retailers in the Inception AI startup compeition.
Francois Chaubard, CEO of Focal Systems, explains his company’s deep learning system for brick-and-mortar retail.

Better Than Cash?

The six judges will choose winners in three categories – hottest emerging, most disruptive and best social innovation. The winner in each category collects $375,000; the runner-up gets $125,000.

Participants said the funds would let them hire more staff, scale out their R&D infrastructure and invest in sales and marketing. But the awards are about more than cash; they’re about recognition.

“Receiving this prize would be the ultimate recognition from the deep learning industry because deep learning and NVIDIA are synonymous,” said Eli David, co-founder and CTO of Deep Instinct, which uses deep learning to prevent cybersecurity attacks.

For Seoul-based Lunit, winning would “give us a strong presence in the U.S.,” said Anthony Paek, founder and CEO of the company, which provides AI-powered medical data analysis. That would open doors to the U.S. market, he said.

“We want to give startups exactly what they need to be successful,” said Kimberley Powell, NVIDIA’s senior director of business development. “Those named one of the world’s best will not only get a bunch of ‘no-strings-attached cash’ but their story will be told on a global stage at GTC, helping bring more customers and top-tier talent.”

The Categories and Companies

Here’s additional information about the three categories and 14 competitors in our AI startup competition.

Hottest emerging – startups founded in 2015 or later with the best prospects for financial success:

  • Athelas (San Francisco) – Immune health monitoring device for the home
  • Datalogue (New York) – Automating data preparation for enterprise
  • Deepgram (San  Francisco) –  AI for transcription and data insight
  • Focal Systems (Menlo Park, Calif.) – Operating system for brick and mortar retail

Most disruptive – startups likely to disrupt an existing industry:

  • Cape Analytics (Mountain View, Calif.) – Satellite image analytics for insurance
  • Deep Instinct (Tel Aviv) – Deep learning for cybersecurity
  • DigitalGenius (San Francisco) – AI for customer service
  • KONUX (Munich) – Predictive maintenance for railways
  • (Cambridge, Mass.) – Image recognition and analytics for construction

Social innovation – startups likely to benefit society in meaningful way:

  • Bay Labs (San Francisco) – AI technologies for cardiovascular imaging and care
  • Genetesis (Cincinnati) – AI-powered biomagnetic chest pain triage
  • Insilico Medicine (Baltimore) – AI for drug discovery, biomarker development and aging research
  • Lunit (Seoul) – Software for medical data analysis and interpretation
  • SigTuple (Bangalore) – Smart screening powered by data driven intelligence

The Judges

The judging panel includes some of the best-known names in investing. In addition to Huang, they are:

  • Gavin Baker, who manages a $14 billion portfolio at Fidelity Management & Research
  • Tammy Kiely and Pawan Tewari, both partners at Goldman Sachs
  • Thomas Laffont, who leads Coatue Management’s technology investments
  • Shu Nyatta, a member of SoftBank’s global investing team
  • Prashant Sharma, global CTO for Microsoft Accelerator

We’ll announce the winners of the Inception AI startup awards at the GPU Technology Conference, May 8-11, in Silicon Valley. To register for the conference, visit our GTC registration page. was one of 14 emerging companies in the Inception AI startup competition.
Mike Perosek of makes his pitch to the judges.