Two companies born in Edmonton are among an international group of tech startups in the first cohort of the Community Safety and Wellness Accelerator.
Areto Labs and PALcares will be joined by 18 participants from Russia, New Zealand, Israel, Turkey, Argentina, the United States, and elsewhere in Canada in the Edmonton-based accelerator. The 12-week program will give them business development and mentorship opportunities, as well as access to community service agencies and data from the Edmonton Police Service.
The mission of the accelerator is to show that Alberta can do social good, said Ashif Mawji, chair of the accelerator. "We can bring entrepreneurs from all around the world and help them by giving them the data, the domain expertise, the community partners, the agencies, the first customer, funding, and all of the ingredients that a startup needs to be successful," he said at the announcement of the first cohort.
Mawji said about 65 companies applied to the accelerator, which is a partnership between the Edmonton Police Foundation (which Mawji also chairs), Alberta Innovates, and Silicon Valley's AlchemistX, with support from TELUS and Innovate Edmonton. It is one of four programs announced as part of the Alberta Scaleup and Growth Accelerators Program last fall.
"We're excited to take our investment in this first-of-its-kind program to create profitable business that hires great people and makes a positive impact on the world from right here in this province," said Lana Cuthbertson, co-founder and CEO of Areto Labs, which uses artificial intelligence to analyze sentiment on social media and moderate online abuse.
The other Edmonton company, PALcares, is an AI-based recommendation system that connects community members to relevant social supports while collecting data to enhance social services over time.
Police Chief Dale McFee said this is in line with the Edmonton Police Service's Vision 2020 program to reimagine community safety. He cited the HealthIM app to help patrol officers better deal with mental-health calls, as well as a program to decrease liquor-store thefts.
"The sky's the limit," McFee said at the launch. "Back when Ashif and I talked about this three years ago, we never thought it would happen this quick."
But speed is not always one's friend when it comes to dealing with the sensitive subjects and data that many of these startups are dealing with, cautioned Katrina Ingram, CEO of Ethically Aligned AI. She has written about the unintended consequences of police use of data, and while she praised the accelerator and participating startups for wanting to do good in the world, she urged them to adequately weigh the risks.
"I think sometimes when we rush into accelerator programs and things like that, we're pushed to grow quickly," she told Taproot. "And sometimes that means we don't have enough time to do enough due diligence and reflection on what we're actually doing."
Demo Day for the first cohort will take place in March or April.