Philip Marais, Northern European Lead for the OVHcloud Startup Program, talks to us about how artificial intelligence is helping us to view societal problems from a different perspective.
Since it first emerged in science fiction, artificial intelligence (AI) has assumed an uneasy position in the public consciousness, with people in turn both excited by and apprehensive at its possibilities. Whatever your opinion of it, the reality of the transformative capabilities of AI-based innovations cannot be denied. It’s a tool that’s empowering governments and organisations worldwide with the ability to address some of the most critical and enduring challenges we are facing as a society, and as the Northern European Lead for the OVHcloud Startup Program, it’s something that Philip Marais is very interested in.
Since 2015, the Startup Program has helped to deploy over 2,000 start-ups and scale-ups on to their cloud, providing free cloud credits, personalised support from a Solutions Architect, visibility on social media and access to an active network of partners. Globally, 1.6 million customers across 140 countries are reliant on OVHcloud’s infrastructure.
Gaining strength through partnerships
Philip acknowledges that the Startup Program’s extensive reach would not be possible without an ever-strengthening ecosystem of reliable partners, and it’s the support from this community that enables them to go further than ever before. A partnership with global super connectors Empact Ventures, for example, has opened up an entire network of start-ups and scale-ups who are now benefitting from the support the OVHcloud Startup Program can provide.
This active participation in the start-up community has led to Philip’s appointment as the judge for the Artificial Intelligence For Good stream of Super Connect For Good, a competition created by Empact Ventures and recruiting experts Hays Technology to uncover the best emerging tech start-ups and scale-ups positively impacting people’s lives through technology.
The growth potential of artificial intelligence
To Philip’s mind, AI is not only one of the fastest-growing industries in the world but has the potential to do good in a multitude of areas and is a key focus for the OVHcloud Startup Program. ‘We’re looking for start-ups and scale-ups which offer some kind of Software as a Service or need a cloud platform in order to deploy their web app or their mobile app, and AI is a very big use case at the moment,’ he explains. ‘They’re usually trying to utilise it in some way, whether it’s an off the shelf solution or training their own models.’
Furthermore, OVHcloud has its own AI offering, which is covered by the credits offered through the Startup Program. ‘This gives them the ability to clean up their data, which in turn makes it digestible and ready for training models,’ Philip says. ‘They’re also able to access GPUs as a service, which are high-performance platforms for training AI models that can then be deployed on our cloud as well.’
How AI is helping humanity
Though interested in AI from a business perspective, OVHcloud is also keen to see the good that it can do, particularly in areas such as healthcare. The key to harnessing this, Philip believes, is data. ‘There is a morass of data,’ he explains, ‘but often it’s not easy to understand or utilise. AI can help to make sense of it whilst extracting value and insights.’
‘We want to be in a position where we’re able to predict things before they happen. It’s about being proactive, rather than reactive. Being able to detect diseases earlier, getting people treatment quicker, saving lives and in turn reducing NHS costs. I’m amazed at the amount of innovation in the healthcare sector.’ Philip believes that HealthTech and MedTech start-ups face a harder challenge than most when it comes to taking an idea to market, with hurdles coming in the form of certifications and data privacy requirements. But he’s impressed with the number of public sector organisations actively funding start-ups and scale-ups as a means of improving the public health system.
Start-up and scale-up challenges endure
Despite the very often great rewards of launching a tech for good start-up and successfully enacting positive social change, challenges for founders remain. Philip cites a lack of visibility, competition for funding and access to market as just some of the major obstacles start-ups face, which is why the right partnerships are crucial.
‘Collaborating with organisations like Empact Ventures and OVHcloud can help overcome these challenges,’ he explains. ‘The events that we host bring together potential investors and potential customers, which can help make you heard above the noise. Furthermore, choosing the right channels for leveraging your visibility very much depends on whether your business model is B2B or B2C. It just goes to show that the right support from ecosystem players is crucial.’
Is ‘conscious business’ the future?
Having spent the past 20 years working with start-ups, Philip believes he has seen a fundamental shift in the mindsets of entrepreneurs. ‘It’s not just about profits anymore,’ he says. ‘People want to make a difference, and it’s easier these days to do so because technology allows you to get up and running so much faster. Our increased awareness of problems on a global scale paired with easier access to technology is going to drive people to try and solve those problems, and artificial intelligence is going to be a critical part of that.’
‘As a business leader, you need to be thinking about how green and sustainable your product is, and what impact you’re going to be having on the environment,’ he concludes. ‘A social focus is key if you’re going to gain that crucial support from customers - and thrive going forward.’
If you would like to see our finalists compete to be crowned the overall winner of the Super Connect For Good competition, you can register to attend the Virtual Final on 18th November.
Director, Hays Technology, UK & Ireland
James Hallahan, Director of Hays Technology and James Harvard, our professional services business, has over 20 years’ experience in technology and digital recruitment, and solutions that deliver outcomes for customer success. James is responsible for delivering strategic growth across both the private and public sectors, through scaling existing products and services and innovating with new solutions to both existing and new markets within which we operate.