Ryan Carmichael, Kanari AI Chief Executive Officer

From accents to linguistic inflections and regional dialects, written and spoken Arabic takes many forms. It is assumed that there are at least 22 dialects of Arabic in circulation today.

Perhaps due to its complexity, many tech companies have avoided making Arabic a central focus of their R&D and services. This includes popular speech recognition platforms.

Launched in 2020, Kanari AI, entered the market to ring in a change. The speech tech startup provides innovative Arabic speech recognition that recognizes individual dialects in audio and video files to convert them to written text.

“The smaller market of Arabic speakers versus English speakers and the dialectal challenges of Arabic have limited voice technology in the region,” Kanari AI’s Chief Executive Officer, Ryan Carmichael, noted. “We created the leading dialectal Arabic speech recognition platform in the market to detect 19 Arabic dialects in one global model. This covers 95 percent of the market, so this really sets us apart from the competition.”

A recipient of the Tech Venture Fund (TVF) from Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), part of Qatar Foundation’s (QF’s) Research, Development and Innovation (QF RDI), Kanari AI licensed its core technology from Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), part of QF’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU).

Reflecting on the Qatari market’s unique features and how startups such as Kanari AI can succeed within it, Carmichael said: “The first thing that comes to mind is the word ‘partnership’. Qatar is a smaller market – but it is immensely meaningful. By having the support of QSTP and QCRI, startups gain immediate validation which helps onboard initial customers. Just one customer in one vertical can help with the initial traction and growth that startups need.”

Kanari AI stood out as one of the promising outputs of QSTP’s Research to Startup (RTS) program, a unique platform that links entrepreneurs with QF RDI’s Industry Development and Knowledge Transfer office, research institutes, and the TVF team.

“The pre-seed investment allowed us to hire the right team to complete our tech transfer and prepare our products for commercialization,” Carmichael said. “Having QSTP as an investor also helped us attract additional capital.”

Kanari AI has since developed new elements of its business model based on the core technology and has steadily grown its customer base – in part due to the global demand for new communications technologies stimulated by the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has actually helped the global speech recognition market as people interact more on virtual platforms – from online meetings to customer service. The opportunity for speech technology is everywhere,” Carmichael explained.

Not surprisingly, Kanari AI is rapidly asserting itself as a leader in speech recognition in the Arabic-speaking world. Its partners range from the UN Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) Innovation Cell in support of peacemaking efforts in the MENA region through AI dialectal speech recognition, to government parliaments. An active participant across various startup platforms, Kanari AI was recently selected as one of 20 promising startups for the Alchemist Accelerator’s 29th Demo Day, joining other promising early-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises.

For Carmichael, Qatar’s innovation ecosystem laid the groundwork for Kanari AI’s success, in particular the collaboration and teamwork at QSTP.

“On the tech side, licensing AI technology can be challenging because the core models are complex. The QCRI IP team did an excellent job ensuring that the technology was transferred and working properly,” Carmichael said. “On the investment side, we received capital support but also links to investors and partners. Launching a startup during a global pandemic is challenging to say the least. But the right partners understand that things do not always go as planned and can work with you to face the challenge.”

Looking ahead, Carmichael wants to encourage other up-and-coming entrepreneurs to follow in Kanari AI’s footsteps and take charge of their ideas. His words of advice to young innovators are straightforward: “Be honest about your current needs and challenges. Be patient with the process –and ask for help when needed.”

QSTP’s TVF is a strategic venture capital fund designed to support local innovative startups and attract international ones looking to scale in the region. The Fund provides opportunities for local, regional and global tech founders and entrepreneurs to source seed-stage funding and follow-on capital. It also seeks to lower the barriers to starting a tech venture within Qatar’s growing innovation ecosystem.

To apply and find out more about QSTP’s TVF, please visit: https://qstp.org.qa/tech-venture-fund/

To learn more about Kanari AI, please visit https://kanari.ai