These Six AI Startups Just Snagged a Share of $1.5 Million in Cash Prizes

by Jamie Beckett

Hollywood-style lights in NVIDIA green. A champagne toast. And the envelope, please.

The gala awards event celebrating winners of NVIDIA’s Inception competition for AI startups had the trappings of Tinseltown, with one key difference: Its envelope was stuffed with $1.5 million in cash prizes, to be split among six of the world’s most promising AI startups.

“Ten years ago, we started a journey of creating a new computing platform so that you guys could discover things and make a contribution to the world that otherwise would have been impossible,” said Jensen Huang, NVIDIA CEO and founder. “We are genuinely touched by the work you do.”

Richest Prize Purse

Huang was among the all-star panel of judges and sponsors that included execs from Goldman Sachs, Fidelity Investments, SoftBank, Microsoft and Coatue Management. After seeing pitches by 14 award finalists last month, judges selected winners and runners-up in three categories – hottest emerging, most disruptive and best social innovation.

Winners received $375,000 apiece and runners-up got $125,000 each. The total prize purse is believed to be one of the richest for any startup competition.

The awards are a first for our Inception virtual accelerator program, which supports 1,300 AI startups with GPUs, connections and other resources to help them be successful.

And the Winners are …

Social innovation: Genetesis – reinventing how emergency rooms diagnose chest pain.

In the U.S., chest pain is the reason for 10 million ER visits a year. It’s currently hard to tell whether the pain is related to a cardiac problem like a heart attack or caused by something else. Electrocardiogram test results are often inconclusive, so patients frequently endure hours of additional testing.

Cincinnati-based Genetesis is running clinical trials for CardioFlux, a non-invasive biomagnetic imaging system that measures the chest’s weak magnetic fields. Powered by GPUs, it generates a 3D map of the heart’s electrical performance in just 90 seconds, giving doctors a fast and accurate way to diagnose blocked arteries and pinpoint their location.

“Winning this award is incredible,” said Peeyush Shrivastava, CEO of Genetesis, which is now introducing deep learning features for CardioFlux. “To have this platform for introducing this at a global level means everything.

  • Runner-up: Bay Labs
    San Francisco-based Bay Labs wants to combat heart disease by putting an inexpensive ultrasound scanner in the hands of every general practitioner. By training its GPU-accelerated deep learning software to recognize ultrasound images, it aims to make scans easier to interpret. The company said its solution can reach eight times more people than existing ultrasound devices and bring down the cost from $400 to $50 per scan.

Hottest emerging: Athelas – building a better blood test.

In a category for young startups that have raised less than $5 million, the San Francisco-based company stood out for its portable device that lets users measure their white blood cell count anytime and anywhere.

Using deep learning and machine vision, the machine identifies leukemia, infections, inflammations and other conditions in minutes from just a drop of blood. Athelas founder Tanay Tandon said the $500 device would lower the costs of blood tests. The technology, which is undergoing FDA clearance, is already available to clinics and home users.

“It’s great that a company like NVIDIA that’s defined the industry and is continuing to define it will help startups,” said Tanay Tandon, the 20-year-old founder of Athelas. “Winning this gives us continuing motivation.”

  • Runner-up: Focal Systems
    Focal Systems is bringing AI to the grocery store. With GPU servers on the aisles and a grocery cart rigged up a tablet computer and cameras, the Menlo Park, Calif., company’s deep learning algorithms help shoppers find products, spot sales and pay for groceries without stopping at the checkout counter. The same setup alerts retailers when products are out of stock.


Most disruptive: Deep Instinct – using AI to predict and prevent malware attacks.

Cybersecurity grabbed headlines last year when Russia hacked computers of the U.S. Democratic party before the presidential election. More than a million new malware threats are released daily, but most antivirus software focuses on known threats, according Deep Instinct CTO David Eli.

The Israeli company’s GPU-accelerated deep learning software detects malware in real time. Trained on hundreds of millions of files, the neural network learns to detect more threats and then uses its experience to predict new attacks.

“Winning this prize is the ultimate recognition from the deep learning industry because deep learning and NVIDIA are synonymous,” said David Eli, Deep Instinct CEO and co-founder.

  • Runner-up:
    Construction is the world’s second-largest industry. It’s also among the most dangerous, comprising 20 percent of U.S. worker deaths. Safety experts inspect sites, but there aren’t enough to go around, according to Mike Perozek, vice president of sales and marketing at The Cambridge, Mass., company has created an AI inspector that detects danger in videos collected at construction sites.

At the close of the event, winners stepped onto the stage for champagne toasts with Huang and other NVIDIA executives.

“You’re never going to forget this moment,” Huang said.

Winners in the NVIDIA Inception competition take the stage.
Winners in the NVIDIA Inception competition take the stage.