Key takeaways from our chat with the Innovator of the Year, made possible by KPMG

By: Shivani Persad, April 22 2024

At the recent CIX Summit powered by Elevate, we hosted a fireside chat with Aidan Gomez, Innovator of the Year, co-founder of Cohere and a pioneer in the AI field. Seamus Blackmore from KPMG introduced Gomez with fitting words: “Aidan Gomez is a shining example for young founders in Canada… Cohere’s groundbreaking work in AI is impressive, changing the landscape of Artificial Intelligence and disrupting multiple industries as a result.”

Here are four key takeaways from this insightful conversation:

Don’t underestimate the importance of foundational relationships

Gomez recounted his initial relationships at Google and the University of Toronto. For him, meeting his co-founders Nick Frosst and Ivan Zhang was pivotal in Cohere’s story. After working with Frosst at Google Brain in Toronto, meeting Zhang through U of T’s Computer Science group chat and working with him on AI research, he knew he had met two hyper-ambitious people at the top of their field.

Naturally, when considering building a startup and evaluating his ideas, the first two people he thought to collaborate with were Frosst and Zhang. They all agreed that they could build a globally relevant tech company right here at home so future computer science students wouldn’t have to move to San Francisco to be a part of something groundbreaking.

Gomez’s experience demonstrates the importance of choosing co-founders for their expertise and shared vision. This highlights how work and school relationships can unexpectedly become the foundation of groundbreaking endeavours.

Innovator of the Year, Aidan Gomez and the CIX Summit

Leverage simple concepts for transformational innovation

Sometimes, very simple but powerful concepts can lead to significant innovation. Gomez noted, “The idea is really simple… all you need to do is get a really big supercomputer, tons of compute, and tons of data, like web-scale data. And if you put those two together, you get something that is just extraordinarily capable.” This straightforward approach led to rapid development and iterations, challenging the idea that significant breakthroughs should be complex in nature.

Through many missteps, Cohere has had to develop adaptive solutions, which Gomez referred to as “tricks.” Some are obvious and intuitive, others seemingly random, but together, they increase performance. Gomez maintained that this iterative approach of building on simple ideas and determining which “tricks” will work to solve particular problems is the basis for most AI development in the last five years.

By sticking to basic principles and openly adjusting as they build, innovators can drive considerable advancements. They can now take advantage of the “bag of tricks” they have available.

The audience at the CIX Summit watching a fireside chat with our Innovator of the Year, Cohere

Maintain independence and choose partners strategically

Unlike many similar AI companies, Cohere has chosen to stay independent from major cloud providers. This independence has made fundraising more complex, but it was done deliberately. Without being tied to one cloud partner, the software can serve all major cloud systems without bias. This helps to reach a broader range of customers and meet their specific needs. 

This allows Cohere to be intentional about the partners and investors they choose. They can evaluate who is genuinely interested in their vision, their product and their autonomy to innovate for their customers on their own terms. 

Maintaining independence and strategically selecting partners enables founders to retain control. They can prioritize customer-centric innovation and build adaptable, resilient businesses well-positioned for sustainable growth and long-term value creation.

You can build globally relevant tech companies in Canada

Canada has a track record of exporting much of our top talent and innovation to fuel other economies. Gomez said it’s time to harness this homegrown potential and shift the narrative. Companies like Shopify are proof by existence that Canada can build global technology leaders.

He encouraged founders to innovate confidently, “We invented AI here. This is the place where all the preliminary work was done. We need to support our ecosystem and unlock a new generation of Canadian companies.”

In the growth phase, it’s time for Canada to take more risky bets and let go of the “little brother complex” we have with the United States. “We need a deep ambition to change the world and to have Canada be a globally relevant player,” Gomez said, “I hope we start to see that culture change here.”

For those inspired by Aidan’s journey and seeking to delve deeper into AI and entrepreneurship, follow Cohere’s developments. Engage with future events hosted by Elevate Toronto in cooperation with KPMG.