The 10 Hottest AI Startups Of 2021 (So Far)

Aisera, the producer of conversational AI and RPA tools. Eightfold.AI, which offers a way to manage the talent and skills of employees. And Soul Machines, creator of lifelike digital avatars. See who else made CRN’s annual list of the hottest AI startups of 2021 so far.

Lifelike digital avatars. Real-time notetaking. And management of inventories as well as employees’ skills and talents. We’re only halfway through 2021, but the current crop of hot startups dedicated to artificial intelligence shows how far AI has come in accessibility and use in the workplace and the field. And these startups prove that unlocking innovations in AI isn’t a goal reserved for the largest tech giants.

CRN has collected 10 of the hottest AI startups that use their technology to automate tasks in the office and improve interactions with employees and customers. While tech giants including IBM, Microsoft and Palo Alto Networks spend millions to develop AI offerings and acquire companies to boost their portfolios — there appears to be plenty of venture capital and innovative work happening among startups.

As CRN found, innovative work is happening not just in familiar startup ecosystems like Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv, but also in the suburbs of Detroit.

Market research firm IDC puts worldwide revenues for AI software, hardware and services at $327.5 billion in 2021, a growth of 16.4 percent year over year, according to a statement in February. By 2024, the market should break $500 billion.

Read on to learn more about the hottest AI startups of 2021 so far.

For more of the biggest startups, products and news stories of 2021 so far, click here.


Top Executive: Muddu Sudhakar, CEO and co-founder

Headquarters: Palo Alto, Calif.

Aisera offers conversational AI and conversational robotic process automation (RPA) so that employees and customers can solve issues without needing another human.

The startup’s AI Service Desk interprets intentions, sentiments and messages for self-service resolutions in issues of IT, HR, customer service and other operations. Aisera products integrate with ticketing systems, call centers and other services to decrease the cost and time it takes to resolve customer and employee issues, according to its website.

The company counts 8x8, Dartmouth College, Zoom and Autodesk among its customers, according to its website. Its AI Virtual Assistant works off natural language processing and natural language understanding technology to interpret more than a trillion phrases.

Aisera received a major capital injection in April with a $40 million Series C funding round to further its go-to-market strategy in the fields of enterprise IT, HR and customer service. The money brings its total funding to date to more than $90 million, according to a company statement from the time.

The company reached a base of more than 65 million users at the time, according to the statement. CEO Muddu Sudhakar has sold previous startups to VMware and Splunk.

In January, the company announced an integration with Cisco Webex to improve remote workers’ service desk experiences. It also has integrations and partnerships with Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams.

Last year, Aisera garnered attention for offering free aid to health care providers and government agencies. “Having a tool which could provide virtual assistance, collaboration, [is helpful,] and this is where the AI comes in,” CEO Sudhakar told CRN at the time. “We actually coined a name for this, we call it, ‘conversational AI.’ Use AI for its best, this is where AI can do good for humanity.”

The company was founded in 2017, according to Crunchbase.


Top Executive: Diego Oppenheimer, co-founder and CEO

Headquarters: Seattle

Algorithmia offers a platform for machine learning operations (MLOps), a way to deliver AI models and scale production for faster results. The platform is meant to allow users to load, catalog and validate models while managing costs and infrastructure use.

The company’s serverless tools work over CPUs and GPUs to support cloud, on-premises and hybrid environments, according to its website. Algorithmia counts among its integration partners Datadog, GitHub, Splunk and VMware.

The company’s website includes testimonials from enterprises like EY and Raytheon Intelligence and Space. And accolades for Algorithmia include mention as a market leader by GigaOM as well as joining CB Insights’ annual AI 100 list.

In March, Algorithmia released new reporting and risk assessment tools to govern AI models in production. The startup was founded in 2014 and has raised about $38 million to date, according to Crunchbase.

CRN has previously ranked the company among its 10 Coolest DevOps Startups Of 2019, 55 Big Data Startups To Watch In 2016, 10 Coolest Big Data Startups Of 2015.


Top Executive: Nick Romano, CEO and co-founder

Headquarters: Montreal

Bringing AI computation to cars, drones, cameras and other devices is part of Deeplite’s pitch to customers.

This startup’s tools aim to speed up deep neural networks (DNNs) and make them more energy efficient to save enterprises money on cloud and hardware back-ends, according to Deeplite’s website.

Its Deeplite Neutrino tool is meant to accelerate and scale users’ hardware-agnostic software. In May, the company announced a free version of the tool to encourage feedback and new ideas from users. Deeplite has produced solutions for automobiles, smartphones, smart cameras and edge devices, according to its website.

The company raised a $6 million seed round in April to help fund research and development, hiring and market expansion, according to a Deeplite statement earlier this year. Deeplite launched operations in 2019.


Top Executive: Krishna Kallakuri, founder and CEO

Headquarters: Northville, Mich.

Diwo’s AI-powered tool aims to automate the business insights process and provide executives a central space for predicting growth opportunities and quantifying the effect of individual decisions on revenue, along with other measures.

The company’s solutions have helped retail businesses improve inventory management and financial services businesses with credit risk management, according to Diwo’s website. The platform has a natural language interface to guide users to different insights and streams analytics to bring decisions to real time.

It can use third-party developed models to improve event streams. The tool is deployable on cloud or on premises. Diwo was founded in 2014, according to Crunchbase.

Diwo CEO Krishna Kallakuri previously served as CEO of DataFactZ. Chief Operating Officer Razi Raziuddin previously worked at DataRobot, IBM and EMC.


Top Executive: Ashutosh Garg, founder, CEO

Headquarters: Santa Clara, Calif.

On June 10, Eightfold.AI announced a $220 million Series E funding round to grow its partner ecosystem and its AI-powered platform for reskilling and upskilling employees.

Dubbed the Talent Intelligence Platform, Eightfold’s platform offers customers a way to look at the roles and skills of employees, job candidates and contractors, according to the company’s website. Its AI uses neural networks that pull from billions of global data points for its insights.

Eightfold investors include a SoftBank fund, General Catalyst and Capital One Ventures. Among the startup’s partners are Deloitte, SAP, PwC, Accenture and Oracle.

The startup was founded in 2016 and has raised $396.8 million to date, according to Crunchbase. Last year, CRN named Eightfold one of the 12 Coolest Machine-Learning Startups Of 2020.


Top Executive: Sam Liang, CEO and founder

Headquarters: Los Altos, Calif.
Otter provides users an AI-powered tool to record and review conversations in real time. The platform allows users to search past conversations, edit transcripts and organize them from any device. The company markets its tool for business meetings, classes and other use cases.

Users can train the tool to recognize voices and learn frequently used terminology, according to the website.

In May, Otter launched the Otter Assistant tool for business users to automatically join Zoom meetings on a user’s calendar and record and share notes with other meeting participants, even if they didn’t attend. The tool works with Google and Microsoft Outlook calendars. The app also works with Google Meet and other video conferencing platforms.

In February, the company raised a $50 million Series B round of funding to triple its employee base and increase marketing efforts. Kurt Apen -- who previously worked for Coursera, Disney Mobile Games and eBay -- also joined the company as its first chief marketing officer, according to a statement from the time. The app was used in more than 230 countries and transcribed more than 100 million meetings, spanning 3 billion minutes.

Otter was founded in 2016 and has raised $73 million to date, according to Crunchbase.


Top Executive: Omri Geller, co-founder and CEO

Headquarters: Tel Aviv

Run:AI started the year off strong with a $30 million Series B round of funding in January to hire more employees and increase go-to-market efforts for its products and services that split GPUs into smaller instances, saving organizations money and maximizing utilization on AI infrastructure.

Since then, Run:AI has made Gartner’s 2021 Cool Vendors and CB Insights’ AI 100 lists, according to the startup’s website. How the platform works is by decoupling data science workloads from hardware to increase the ability of data science teams to use all available sources, increasing the number of experiments run and giving IT control and visibility over the AI stack. The platform is implemented as a Kubernetes plugin.

The company has raised a total of $43 million and was founded in 2018, according to Crunchbase.

Soul Machines

Top Executive: Mark Sagar, CEO and co-founder

Headquarters: San Francisco

Soul Machines uses AI to create digital people for customer brand experiences. Its digital avatars process information, show emotion and maintain eye contact during conversations, according to the company’s website.

Virtual shopping assistants in an online store, online bankers and online health care assistants are some of the example use cases.

In May, the company announced Human OS 2.0, a new version of its AI platform, which enhances the digital avatars’ interaction ability. The lifelike avatars gained more body animation from the waist up, with hands that can gesture and interact with on-screen content, according to a statement from the time. The new features do not need pre-recording, scripts or puppeteering.

Soul Machines’ partners include Procter and Gamble, NBA player Carmelo Anthony and the World Health Organization.

The company was founded in 2016 and has raised a total of $65 million to date, according to Crunchbase.


Top Executive: Krishna Raj Raja, founder and CEO

Headquarters: San Jose

SupportLogic offers a platform to deliver continuous service experience (SX) to improve service delivery and customer relationships. The platform uses AI to extract and analyze structured and unstructured data.

SupportLogic counts Nutanix, Databricks and Rubrik among its customers, according to its website.

In May, SupportLogic appointed a new chief revenue officer and vice president of engineering. New CRO John Kelly previously held roles at Hired, Oracle and SAP, according to a statement from the time. The new vice president, Sreeni Iyer, held positions at Precog, Walmart and Shutterfly.

The startup exited stealth in 2020 and quadrupled the number of new customers year over year, according to a company statement. It also went from 15 million customer interactions analyzed by its AI to more than 60 million in the past year.

In February, the startup launched its Agent SX coaching and feedback delivery tool to give agents natural language program-driven recommendations on what cases to prioritize and ways to improve performance.

The company has raised $12 million to date. It was founded in 2016, according to Crunchbase.

Top Executive: Surbhi Rathore, CEO and co-founder

Headquarters: Seattle

Seattle-based offers AI-powered tools to build and deploy conversation intelligence in speech, text and video-driven applications.

Users can extract summary topics, topic hierarchies and scope from unstructured conversation data, according to the company’s website. They can measure topic-based sentiments and generate insights including follow-ups, topics, questions and intentions to make applications more personalized.

This year, the company has held hackathon events to educate developers on using its tools and services and to find more integrations and functionality between Symbl’s APIs and popular tools and platforms, offering $5,000 in prizes.

In May, released a beta version of Trackers, a tool to recognize contextual similarities to better track key phrases, custom intents and business insights. Users in quality assurance, for example, can track negative words such as “skeptical” and “issue” when they pop up in conversation. Users in sales can track pricing details when they come up in conversation.

The company was founded in 2018 and has raised about $7 million to date, according to Crunchbase.