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Artificial intelligence research and startups at U of T get boost from RBC

Creative Destruction Lab is housed at U of T's Rotman School of Management

Canada’s largest bank is bolstering artificial intelligence and machine learning research at the University of Toronto – and startups launched by students and faculty.

A new agreement between RBC and U of T sees the global giant join forces with Rotman School of Management's Creative Destruction Lab, one of 10 campus-led accelerators at U of T, supporting the entrepreneurial aspirations of students from idea to intellectual property.

The bank has been named a founding partner of the machine learning initiative at the lab, and its donation will support programming to help attract and develop even more startups in this booming and ever-expanding field. Already, the Creative Destruction Lab is home to 50 artificial intelligence companies.

“To our knowledge, this is the greatest concentration of AI companies in any program on Earth,” said Rachel Harris, director of the Creative Destruction Lab. “We’re thrilled to partner with RBC on this initiative. With their support we are able to scale our program.”

Gabriel Woo, RBC’s vice-president of innovation, added: “We share a strong commitment to the study and advancement of artificial intelligence with the University of Toronto, one of the world’s leading institutions in this space. Our partnership with the university and the Creative Destruction Lab is an extension of our ongoing support of the Canadian digital ecosystem.”

Read more about the Creative Destruction Lab

In addition, RBC is establishing RBC Research in Machine Learning at the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, home to several campus-grown startups and across the street from the MaRS Discovery District.

“RBC Research in Machine Learning is part of our commitment to the advancement of machine learning and artificial intelligence in Canada,” said Woo. “We are not only building our own capabilities, we’re also big believers in creating jobs in this space to retain the amazing talent we have in Canada. We’re working with leading universities across Canada like the University of Toronto to partner with the best, brightest and boldest minds in the country.”

Foteini Agrafioti, a successful inventor and entrepreneur with strong U of T roots, will head the state-of-the-art research practice, focused on pushing the boundaries of science around machine learning.

Under her leadership, the RBC Research in Machine Learning team will collaborate with academics from U of T and other institutions, publishing new research in the fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“This has really never been done before in Canada,” Agrafioti said. “We’ve lost so much talent in this country to other companies and institutions, but RBC has both the scale and commitment to ensure Canada remains a centre of excellence in machine learning.” 

A U of T engineering alumnus, Agrafioti is best known as the co-founder and co-inventor of Nymi, the first wearable device to authenticate users with the biometric technology HeartID.

She was a 2012 U of T Inventor of the Year and a graduate from the Creative Destruction Lab’s first cohort.

Earlier this year, RBC and U of T announced a five-year, $3-million partnership that includes the creation of ONRamp, an accelerator for students, entrepreneurs and startups to support them in developing commercial ideas. 

Read more about ONRamp

The deal also includes funding for post-doctoral and graduate fellowships, as well as the RBC Innovation and Entrepreneurship Speaker Series, which will hold its first event on Nov. 8 with Brad Katsuyama, CEO of IEX Group and the hero of the bestselling book Flash Boys, and John Stackhouse, senior vice-president, office of the CEO at RBC and a contributor to the Munk School of Global Affairs.