Radical Reads

A Wave Of Billion-Dollar Language AI Startups Is Coming

By Rob Toews, Partner


Image source: Cohere founding team (from left to right: Ivan Zhang, Nick Frosst, Aidan Gomez), Globe and Mail

In his latest Forbes column, Radical Ventures Partner Rob Toews posits that language is the next great frontier in AI and explores the landscape of emerging natural language processing (NLP) startups, which he believes are poised to create many billions of dollars of value. The column walks through several different categories of NLP startups, from search to language translation to call centers to healthcare. It features Radical portfolio companies Cohere, BirchAI and Twelve Labs, and includes insights from leading NLP researchers including Richard Socher, founder of You.com. We are sharing an excerpt of Rob’s article here:

Language is at the heart of human intelligence. It therefore is and must be at the heart of our efforts to build artificial intelligence. No sophisticated AI can exist without mastery of language.

The field of language AI—also referred to as natural language processing, or NLP—has undergone breathtaking, unprecedented advances over the past few years. Two related technology breakthroughs have driven this remarkable recent progress: self-supervised learning and a powerful new deep learning architecture known as the transformer.

We now stand at an exhilarating inflection point. Next-generation language AI is poised to make the leap from academic research to widespread real-world adoption, generating many billions of dollars of value and transforming entire industries in the years ahead.

A nascent ecosystem of startups is at the vanguard of this technology revolution. These companies have begun to apply cutting-edge NLP across sectors with a wide range of different product visions and business models. Given language’s foundational importance throughout society and the economy, few areas of technology will have a more far-reaching impact in the years ahead.


Cohere is a fast-growing startup based in Toronto that, like OpenAI, develops cutting-edge NLP technology and makes it commercially available via API for use across industries. Cohere’s founding team is highly pedigreed: CEO Aidan Gomez is one of the co-inventors of the transformer; CTO Nick Frosst is a Geoff Hinton protégé. The company recently announced a large Series B fundraise from Tiger Global less than a year after emerging from stealth.

While Cohere does produce generative models along the lines of GPT-3, the company is increasingly focused on models that analyze existing text rather than generate novel text. These classification models have myriad commercial use cases: from customer support to content moderation, from market analysis to search.


BirchAI has built a cutting-edge NLP solution focused on contact centers in healthcare. The company’s target customers include health insurers, pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies.

As Birch co-Founder/CEO Kevin Terrell put it, “Transformer-based NLP can now automate complex dialogue and document workflows that used to require highly trained employees. Healthcare, with its lagging productivity and aging workforce, is one sector where the need for this technology is particularly pronounced.”


One exciting startup building next-generation video search capabilities is Twelve Labs, which announced its seed financing earlier this month. Twelve Labs fuses cutting-edge NLP and computer vision to enable precise semantic search within videos. “Multimodal AI” like this—that is, AI that ingests and synthesizes data from multiple informational modalities at once, like image and audio—will play a central role in AI’s future.

“Large language models are accomplishing incredible things today. We think large multimodal neural networks for video are the obvious next step,” said Twelve Labs co-Founder/CEO Jae Lee. “Video embeddings generated by these networks will supercharge current and future video-driven applications with an intelligence that we’ve never seen before.”


This article is the second part of a series examining the role large language models will play in society and the economy going forward. You can read the first part of Rob’s series here.

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Radical Reads is edited by Leah Morris (Senior Director, Velocity Program, Radical Ventures).