Girts Smelters from Exponential Technologies (xT) explains, how AI helps finding the right recipes for a broad set of industrial innovation challenges and why connecting local knowledge like theirs with international meetings and congresses makes a lot of sense to him.
Hei Girts, can you explain to an amateur what kind of deep tech product it is that you offer and what it can be used for?
Of course, I can: xT is a growth-stage start-up, founded in mid-2019. Our core business is to provide an artificial intelligence (AI) platform and research management system that allows industrial chemists, biologists and engineers to find and optimize process/machine parameters, material composition and many other parameter types. We are three co-founders, Pavel, Matthias and myself, and we have a strong and growing team within offices located both in Riga and Rezekne.
xT is all about finding the right recipes for a broad set of industrial innovation challenges – I give you an analogy from daily life:
Let us assume that you want to open a fast food pancake restaurant, and you need to find the perfect pancake recipe – one that is extremely tasty, easy to mix, quick to cook, and with ingredients that are not too expensive. First, you’d have to find an optimal ratio of baking powder, salt, sugar etc. Then, the right sequence of how you mix them, following with the discovery of right process parameters – frying temperature and duration. And you would have to do all of these steps simultaneously, while spending as little money as possible. Traditionally, any seasoned chef would start by trial and error, changing one or two parameters at a time – a little more sugar, a little higher temperature and so on. That’s why it takes decades for people to reach true greatness.
Our AI platform can substantially shorten this time and save a lot of expensive resources, as it will help to discover the most optimal solution rapidly and let the restaurant owner move on with the business operations and new additions to the menu. Our AI solution starts learning from scratch by generating suggestions that you have to actually try out, and expects your feedback about the taste, performance and costs. This is done for several iterations, and, finally, the AI arrives at the desired result. That is called multi-objective optimization.
Now, the pancake example is a simplification, but once it comes to other industrial domains or medicine (like vaccines against COVID19) the ingredients and processes become very complex. With the help of our AI solution xT_smart_DoE you can speed up the discovery and production scaling for vaccine and antibody test kit manufacturing. This would shorten the go-to-market time for COVID-19 vaccines by several months, and thus save tens of thousands of lives. Hence, we are currently negotiating possible collaboration with some of the global vaccine manufacturers.
Presently, we focus on biotechnology, chemicals and advanced manufacturing (where our industrial partner is the German giant Evonik Industries AG). Applications are possible e.g. in pharmaceutical and chemical production, but also for the production of sustainable food and beverages (like, cultured meat), bio cosmetics, smart materials, novel composites and alloys and so on. The core engine of the platform are AI algorithms which we have developed in-house. However, the service is tailored for each domain specifically, offering a comprehensive research management system for teams of industrial researchers and engineers to collaboratively innovate. Our business model is SaaS (software as a service) on the cloud or can be provided as an on-premise solution — as industrial production often involves very sensitive data and needs to be kept offline. We believe that the opportunity to innovate should be as accessible as possible, therefore our aim is to build products in a user centric manner with an ease of use in mind.
Girts, how do you source clients or potential clients for your xT business?
Well, we are very active in attending conferences, expos, all available platforms and we use any opportunity for networking that we can lay our hands on. xT is part of the Latvian delegation group at Node by Slush, the recently launched virtual start-up community. We will be there from October – December this year, you can visit us here
In addition, we actively take part in hackathons – so, xT, together with a team of international scientists – recently won the Health+Life — research category of the EUvsVirus hackathon* organized by the European Commission. In total, the competition attracted over 20 000 participants and over 2 100 projects were submitted. We had a lot of good press coverage in local media here in Latvia about this successful hackathon! Participation in hackathons has also served as a great networking tool and a possibility to gain international exposure and recognition in the times of global lockdown.
*(in a hackathon you build new teams to speed work on a solution for a particular problem within 48 hours, which then is presented to investors and companies looking for such solution)
Do you find your clients in Latvia itself? How does local PR (like winning the EUvsVirus hackathon) help your cause?
Our target clients are usually not from Latvia; however, we face a significant challenge to attract highly skilled talent. Due to the active start-up ecosystem, there is a “race for talent” and you need to be an exciting and well recognized organization in order to secure a high performing team and future growth! So local PR definitely helps a lot in this “race”!
Where are your clients then?
We find them in all big economies — Germany, France, UK and Spain, but also in the USA, Middle East and quite recently we have started to explore the Indian market. Latvia, predominantly with the help of LIAA endeavors, has built up a strong position in the regional deep tech scene through a very systematic approach and invests a lot in early-stage ventures. That creates favorable conditions for startups to emerge and grow here. However, the scale up gets challenging, as it requires proximity to large industrial players in order to run pilots and approbate the technology.
Girts, to promote meeting and congress destinations, we present knowledge and innovation in the destinations to create a new type of context and relevance. Does this make sense to you?
Yes, it does make a lot of sense. For example I attended Smart City Expo World Congress 2019 in Barcelona and they offered all kinds of relevant opportunities to meet, network with and to visit organizations related to the participants interests. I found this approach very inspiring and in fact it helps to connect to a place much stronger, adds value to the congress participants and visitors and in fact expands the networking opportunities for both sides. So on my side I would be happy to meet with companies or congress delegates coming to Latvia who are interested to know more about what we do at xT! In Latvia we have small, yet many very skillful teams that can punch their weight alongside global leaders in such domains as biomedicine, smart materials and ICT.
Thanks Girts, this was a very interesting talk and it helps a lot to understand what xT is about!