A company built on trust
Why Nineteen AI? Why now? Why us?
Born in a pandemic, focusing on impact, based on a network of trust, Nineteen AI is a different kind of company.
Nineteen is new – founded in April 2020. In the era of COVID-19, we’re applying the latest technologies and data sources to keep people safe and connected – particularly children and seniors.
Our team comes from all walks of life: technology, engineering, entrepreneurship, finance, government, communications. But what makes us special is that we’re friends first.
Most of us got to know each other through Startup Canada, a volunteer-led non-profit founded in 2012 to make Canada the best place in the world to start and grow a business.
Many of us have worked together before, building programs, running events, and mentoring, educating and advising entrepreneurs from coast to coast to coast.
That same spirit, working together to accomplish big goals fast, describes Nineteen.
Victoria Lennox, co-founder of Startup Canada and its longtime CEO, had just begun Ph.D studies in the ethics and governance of artificial intelligence at Oxford University when the Covid crisis struck. As schools and businesses shut down, Victoria returned to her hometown of Cambridge, Ont., to sit out the storm.
But waiting around isn’t her thing. With coronavirus threatening the planet, Victoria wondered if a group of idealistic entrepreneurs could develop new ideas to flatten the curve and keep people safe.
In mid-April, Victoria sent one notice to her Facebook and LinkedIn networks. Was anyone interested in joining her to confront the coronavirus?
From Revelstoke, B.C., to Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and beyond, the answer came back: YES!
More than 50 people – all of them busy with jobs and businesses of their own – raised their hands. They were eager to work together and share a sense of purpose. A former Ottawa volunteer now living in South Africa signed on. Even former associates of NACUE, a British charity co-founded by Victoria, joined the team, making it a rare startup with immediate global credentials.
These eager entrepreneurs quickly organized themselves into teams: technology, problem identification, product development, finance, partnerships, marketing and team care, what some companies call HR.
Victoria made it clear she did not want to run the business so other leaders stepped up. The company’s culture is servant leadership, where the bosses’ job is to help their teams succeed. Our focus is on results, not titles.
Watching everyone come together, I saw a lesson for entrepreneurs and leaders in all fields. On April 18, I wrote this post on Twitter:
“Victoria Lennox, cofounder of Startup Canada, is putting together a multinational team to flatten the COVID curve. No one asked ‘how?’ No one asked, ‘how long?’ No one asked, ‘how much?’ They just said yes. Moral of the story: Surround yourself with people who say ‘Yes.’”
We keep in mind that observation of anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Over Zoom meetings, this thoughtful group identified 15 possible problems to address. From that we selected two: contact tracing and supply chains. After mobilizing a number of ideation teams, we selected SafeSpot™ and SafeKids™, platforms for ensuring that our most vulnerable populations stay connected and healthy post-lockdown.
At the same time, we’re building relationships with governments, healthcare, scientists, universities, funding agencies and accelerators, eager to combine our passion and their resources.
Our mission statement is based on our shared commitment to health, safety and service:
“Our mission is to collaborate in the development of powerful tools and practical products that contribute meaningfully to a global ecosystem of innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity targeting the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, and to do so with integrity, intentionality, an unimpeachable commitment to data and personal privacy, and a celebration of our customers as the core of everything we do.”
“We’re so focused on culture first,” said Victoria. “We already feel like family.”
This isn’t just marketing talk. Consider a few comments from our team members:
“When a group of talented and hard-working entrepreneurs come together to achieve a common goal, it’s super-hard to say No,” said Nunzio Presta, founder of Toronto-based BizON, and currently our co-CEO. “As entrepreneurs, we have the responsibility to fix things, improve things and most importantly, invent things. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing, at break-neck speed.”
In Ottawa, Chaela Kindness, a former Startup Canada staff member, was the first to respond to Victoria’s challenge. “I joined Nineteen because the project is as ambitious as the team is talented,” she said. “We are all aligned towards the same goal; helping people through times of need.”
Engineer, entrepreneur and long-time volunteer Edwin Frodonzo said Startup’s record of collaboration and inclusion roped him in. “Victoria has vision, drive and a unique leadership style that gets everyone to rally and cheer the organization on.”
Benoît Badaillac, an aeronautical engineer and consultant in St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu,Que., was working with an insurance startup when he heard Victoria’s call to arms. Seeing AI as a major force for change and progress, he happily signed on. “Our startup approach is very lean and consensually driven,” he said. “The culture is serious without taking ourselves too seriously. People are kind and empathetic. It’s amazing to see the expertise we have gathered so far.”
From Cape Town, South Africa, Francis Moran wrote: “It is humbling and a privilege to be part of this extraordinary venture. I have been involved in scores of startups. Never have I seen anything coalesce with the speed and passion of this project. Thank you, everyone, for letting me be part of this.”
In Charlottetown, Hannah Bell, a former startup community leader now serving as a Green Party MLA in the Prince Edward Island legislature, was eager to recapture the startup spirit. “It’s been a couple of years since I have worked in that space of big thinking, activated networks, and people who say yes,” she said. “I missed it more than I thought. So here I am, working long strange hours with a smile and feeling of belonging.”
Marketing entrepreneur Patrick Lyver, head of Startup Durham in Ontario, has been looking for Covid solutions since the pandemic began. “I could not slow down my mind, wondering how and where I could help,” he said. “When Victoria made a call out to her network, I gravitated towards it immediately as a way to turn an obsession into action.”
Startup Canada Co-founder & New York film producer Cyprian Szalankiewicz, “In terms of market growth, AI has been core to many of today’s most successful companies and will continue to change how the World accesses information. Nineteen will utilize human enhancing technologies and problem-solving capacities in addressing pandemic management and post-pandemic recovery.”
Nineteen really is a new kind of business. Built on innovation and trust. Obsessed with impact. Dedicated to you. We hope you’ll follow us on this journey.
Create a lasting impact on the world