Ethically improving human and animal audio recognition.
“When someone looks up MACSO a hundred years from now, I want them to ask what the world would have been like without it,” says founder Saba Samiei. When Samiei talks about the lofty goals she has for MACSO – the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and edge-computing business she founded – it comes from a desire to change the world for good. She’s a strong believer in the power of ethical and accessible AI to do just that.
“I want to bring AI into the comfort zone of as many people as I can,” she says, adding that for several years the business was only an idea and a name, in search of a function.
“I so strongly believed in the vision that I wanted the company name to represent the vision. I knew I wanted to run an AI business and I knew I wanted the people working in that business to think outside the box. Because I’m really interested in astrophysics, I thought about ‘the box’ being the Milky Way, and Googled the name of the galaxy that was the furthest away from that.”
That, it turns out, is a galaxy known as MACS0647-JD. So MACSO was born, but Samiei was still very much working on her plans for the business. Enter Bridgewest Ventures, which has entered into a joint venture partnership with MACSO through Callaghan Innovation’s Tech Incubator programme.
Finding a founder
Having connected with Chinese hardware manufacturer, Chaoyang Semiconductor, a specialist producer of low-power edge computing chipsets, Bridgewest knew there was opportunity for a Kiwi deep tech company to take that technology and transform it for new, practical applications.
“We started looking for a founder because, at that point, we didn’t know of anybody working at the required level of maturity for AI in New Zealand,” says Bridgewest Ventures General Manager John Robson. Having met Samiei, Bridgewest asked her to prepare a presentation on her five-year plan, and her views and vision for edge computing.
“She came back with a fantastic slide deck on what she wanted to do with MACSO and ethical AI.
“We asked if she would like us to invest in her business and help her grow it, and then connected her with Chaoyang,” Robson says.
Chaoyang is now another investor in MACSO and, with that relationship formalised, MACSO has set about training AI models and integrating Chaoyang’s chipset so it is scalable and compatible with any sensor platform.
MACSO’s initial focus is on two specific use cases for the Chaoyang’s low power chipset combined with audio sensor hardware.
The first is an agritech solution, developing algorithms that use audio sensors to detect illness in animals, aiding early detection and pandemic prevention. The second is a voice recognition algorithm for edge, or off-grid devices with potential for use in smart homes as well as health, and security where data safety is critical.
“Using edge computing for anything that involves people is key, because it doesn’t involve collecting data, so their privacy is protected,” says Samiei, who is an AI ethics specialist.
Robson says the business has truly global potential “Saba is building a platform that can be scaled very, very quickly, straight to a global market.”
“I think it’s going to be a revolutionary platform when it’s up and running.”
The partnership between MACSO and Chaoyang, brought together by Bridgewest Ventures and supported by the Callaghan Innovation Tech Incubator is a great model for how fledgling Kiwi businesses can access global markets, says Robson.
“These partnerships between global businesses with innovative hardware and wide networks, offer huge opportunities for Kiwi deep tech developers to find investment, R&D support and channels to the world market.”
So although MACSO’s immediate focus is on developing its initial projects and consolidating the business by building the right team, Samiei’s already eyeing up the global potential on the horizon. “We’ll be targeting customers in China and the US as well as New Zealand. Then we’ll look to Australia and Europe.”
In the meantime, Samiei who also owns AI educational-resource business, Comfort.AI, is grateful for the backing she’s received from Bridgewest Ventures, beyond just financial investment.
“They gave me courage and confidence. It was the first time I was talking to people that believed in my vision and in me as a leader.
“They also connected the ecosystem of people. As a business leader you often feel like you’re alone, and I’m not very good at asking for help, so Bridgewest’s support with connections has been invaluable.”
About Technology Incubators
NZ’s Technology Incubator Programme supports deep tech innovators to turn their complex products and technologies into high growth ventures. Under the new programme, and through official incubators, deep tech startups can access funding of at least $1 million; a strong breadth and depth of commercialisation support; and international and local connections. NZ’s Technology Incubator Programme and core venture funding is powered by Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand’s innovation agency.
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Updated: 15 November 2021