Computer vision is one of the most transformative technologies of our time with a nearly endless number applications in business and society. 

At IAG Firemark Ventures, we love exploring how computer vision can be applied to our core business of insurance, but the applications go much broader than just that.

Listed below are six of our favorite examples of how computer vision is already being implemented to change the way we live and do business. 

1) Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles use a combination of cameras, radar and lidar to ‘see’ the road – and hopefully not crash. This TED talk by Chris Urmson (formerly the CTO of Google’s self-driving car division) details the journey towards Level 5 autonomous vehicles that can operate truly independently without a human behind the wheel.

2) Checkout-less Shopping

Computer vision is allowing for checkout-less shopping where customers can walk into a store, pick what they want and then simply walk out again. All done without needing to scan and pay for your items at the checkout.

Amazon is already piloting this technology in its Amazon Go stores and we should expect the technology to become more mainstream in the near-term as it is adopted by other retailers globally.

3) Cancer Detection

Computer vision has huge potential within the medical field with applications already in use for the diagnosis of certain cancers. This TED talk by Chris Bakal from The Institute of Cancer Research details the work underway in this space and how computer vision can be used to save lives from cancer.

4) Agriculture

Agriculture is one of humanities oldest industries, but this does not mean it has been left behind technologically. Computer vision is already being used to bring a range of benefits to agriculture including improvements in crop yields, detecting weeds, identifying and counting fruit/plants as well as surveillance and monitoring through drones, aircraft and satellites.

5) Traffic Management

Real-time traffic management is now possible through computer vision technology that ingests live feeds from CCTV footage in order to count cars and detect and respond to incidents on the roads as they happen.

6) Workplace safety

Workplace accidents causing injury or death can be reduced through the implementation of computer vision technology that is programmed to detect hazards and issues in the workplace, before an accident occurs. This short video from Microsoft demonstrates some of the advancements that are occurring within the computer vision for workplace safety space.

In April this year, Firemark Ventures continued with its Stone & Chalk Masterclass Series by running a breakfast event on ‘The Disruptive Impact of Automation’.

Our keynote speaker Alex Taylor (Entrepreneur in Residence – Firemark Labs) alongside our expert panel with Stephanie Brownlee (R&D – and Tiberio Caetano (Chief Scientist – Gradient Institute) discussed topics such as:

In case you missed the event, a copy of the keynote presentation is below.

Being a Corporate VC, at IAG Firemark Ventures, we see hundreds of startups and scale ups each year, who are showcasing their game changing solutions. Some pitches we see are first class, some share a solution trying to find a problem. But regardless of their unique offering or quality of the presentation, startups all have something in common. They are seeking $$$ to take the next step and make their dent in the universe.

Often families & besties either directly or indirectly help startups in their very early days. Others bootstrap. Others do both. Either way it’s a slog, but you have to start somewhere. Look at some of the world’s most successful startups; almost all got going this way.

Then there is competitions & grants, and even accelerators that can give startups a leg up. There’s actually a heap of these out there. Yet many feel too proud to explore this route, and others are just unaware the possibilities they present. Accelerators & networking hubs actually help you by being around like-minded folks, and lots of opportunities flow just by getting amongst it.

Angel Investors do still exist and can help with an early seed round. And if you do expand enough to get to a typical $500K-$2M Seed Round, you are making traction.

Typically VCs are looking for startups with a high growth velocity, and when they do, they inject funding in return for an equity stake.   

And many Corporate VCs are investing for financial gain like the VCs, are investing for strategic benefit to see how they can leverage the startups tech, data and customers.

Whilst there are lots of options and VC funding is hitting record highs in Australia, most of it is hitting the later stage startups. It was reported that only one third of Australian startups have secured funding. Let’s face it – it’s tough to secure that level of funding to grow your business.

But Equity Crowdfunding in Australia is gathering momentum and becoming a great step stone for early stage startups. It can help build the bridge to grow, before successfully getting into a full funding round.  before growing and successfully getting into a full funding round. And the number of individuals and investors wanting to get a small stake in a startup is growing too, even if it’s still a speculative bet.

Platforms such as Equitise, Birchall and OnMarket are maturing and continue to add different campaigns with success. Some recent equity crowdfunding success stories include fast growing neo-bank Xinja, who secured a further $2.5M from over 1,500 investors.

Last month another fast-growing startup, Shebah, the female ride sharing service, secured $3M from over 2,000 investors. Both these campaigns oversubscribed and exceeded expectations. And both these companies have the funds they need to grow to the next level. We expect they’ll be seeking some serious formal funding rounds in the years to come.

Whatever your strategy is to secure funding, here are a few points to consider when making the pitch!

1. You need real customers, not just pro-bonos.

2. You need to have a full financial position including burn rate, not just your projected 12 month revenue.

3. You don’t just need a product, you need a product roadmap for the future….don’t be short sighted!

4. Have some great advisors and mentors. Be humble.  You don’t have all the answers.

5. And lastly have a Data Strategy. So many startups don’t know the value of their data. Sometimes your data is worth more than your product or solution itself!

Good luck in getting the $$$ and we hope to speak to you soon at some stage here at IAG Firemark Ventures.

In my role as General Partner here at IAG Firemark Ventures, I get to spend most of my time focussed on what’s happening in the world of technology and startups. A lot of our focus is around artificial intelligence. We’re looking at all kinds of innovative companies and how they can impact the future of our organisation and how we serve our customers. AI is a big space. There’s a lot going on. We’re looking at how disciplines such as voice analytics and computer visioning can work behind the scenes to improve processes, create scalability and greater efficiency. We’re looking at how movement data can teach us more about our customers and their behaviours. How smart apps and platforms can assist us in informing our customers of significant events – such as hail storms or potentially dangerous situations. Ultimately, we’re all about making our customers’ world a safer place.

Recently I was on the road in North America and spent some time in Toronto. From Australia it’s easy to think that Toronto is just another big city “over there” – but it’s actually the Canadian Silicon Valley in many regards. And when you look more closely you’ll see how impressive the technology / innovation scene is there – especially when it comes to AI success stories and a great place to incubate new businesses.

At the hub of it all is MaRS DD. Medical and Related Sciences Discovery District. A impressive 1.5 million square feet of research labs and technology offices in downtown Toronto. MaRS DD is a not-for-profit corporation founded in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2000. Its stated goal is to commercialise publicly funded medical research and other technologies with the help of local private enterprises and as such is a public-private partnership.[1] As part of its mission MaRS says, “MaRS helps create successful global businesses from Canada’s science, technology and social innovation”.

There’s an exceptional story that they are very proud of at MaRS. Early med tech’ pioneers Banting & Best discovered and purified insulin for the first time in the building which now forms the Heritage Building of MaRS. This Nobel prize winning work formed the basis for the modern treatment of diabetes. It’s a good story – innovation in their blood – literally.

At present there are some 1,300 high growth ventures in the ecosystem – either fully resident or supported. There are also some big names resident there too – such as Facebook and PayPal who call it their Canadian HQ.

It’s not just big – it’s also very successful. The model they have seems to be the right blend of talent, capital and technology. There are entrepreneurs, corporates, researchers, start-ups and investors all under the one roof. VCs reside there right next to some of the companies they support. You can grab a coffee and walk from Real Ventures to Element AI in about 10 seconds. This kind of proximity and presence is working well – on both sides.

MaRS seems to have two specific strengths – Regenerative Medicine and Artificial Intelligence. Seeing as my day job is to look for innovative AI companies it made sense for me to battle the cold (-20c) and hang out there for a few days. There are a number of high profile companies and entrepreneurs right there – The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, The Vector Institute, Borealis AI and Element AI for starters. Geoffrey Hinton “godfather of AI” at the University of Toronto is in the ecosystem there and his company is driving strategies for the long term economic growth with AI in the region. (And note that folks such as Real Ventures are on the board too). It’s a great example of the components of a tech’ ecosystem all working together and supporting each other towards a common set of goals.

MaRS supports ventures that improve lives. They have four specific sectors / vertical programs:

• Cleantech

• Enterprise

• Fintech

• Health

Each of these is run by a senior team of managers who drive the programs, support the start-ups and seemingly do whatever it takes make their companies a success – and at scale. The teams provide advisory support, connection to capital and talent as well as key market intelligence and data insights (via a partnership with Gartner). They also work to accelerate and support immigration requests and processes. Whilst I was there I heard first hand from a CEO how MaRS had helped get their people (international recruitment) working visas and relocation paperwork in a very short timeframe. They offer a talent accelerator to help companies hire and retain talent. They call it the “magnetic north” with significant recruitment of scarce talent coming from India, USA, China, Brazil and France. Something that would be very much welcomed in the tech ecosystem here in Australia. In fact, Toronto is North America’s fastest from market for tech jobs…adding more net new jobs than Seattle, New York, Washington and the Bay area combined. Yep, I paused to think about that when I heard it too.

On the capital front there are the resident VCs but there’s also the MaRS funds themselves (six). Responsible in some way for about 30 exits in recent times and almost a billion dollars of follow on funding. 65% of MaRS supported ventures have serial founders, 50% have foreign born founders and 25% have female founders. It’s a great intersection of the components and ethos to nurture innovation for the long term.

So what can we do in Australia to create our own MaRSDD? Is there something unattainable in scale they have? Some unfair advantage? Well not really we don’t have an excuse. Australia and Canada are comparable in terms of population and GDP. We always sit at number 11 and 12 on most lists of economic measures globally. As cities we’re mostly huddled up on one border – them with the USA and us with the Ocean. Alright they do have a pretty big market to sell their products and services to just over the lake but so do we…we’ve got two thirds of the world’s population just to the north and practically on the same time zone. We have some great incubators, accelerators and programs in Australia.

At IAG we support Stone & Chalk (the fintech focussed incubator)…but what more can we do? Reading my own summary of MaRS it’s obvious I’m a big fan and having spent time there I got a feeling that yes, it’s very impressive, forward thinking and very grown up. But that’s not something we can’t be here. If we think about just Sydney for a moment, and as the plans and programs start to take shape for the Sydney Innovation and Research Technology Precinct, let’s all lean in and see what we can learn from MaRSDD to make a success obsessed ecosystem of our own. As General Partner at a significant Australian Corporate VC I think I know what role I want to play.

Many thanks to Roy Kao (Managing Director MaRS Fintech) and his team for being my hosts and also to Janet Bannister and my old friend Marcel LeBrun (of Real Ventures) for making so many introductions. I’ll be back – but not during the polar vortex again – that was a bit chilly to be honest.

Founded – May 31, 2000
Type – Charitable trust
Focus – Technology transfer, commercialization
Location – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Method – Consultancy, market research, venture capital
Key people – Yung Wu, CEO
Website –

Firemark Singapore Thought Leadership Blog – Shen Lu

Ever since the inception of the idea of mimicking the ways neurons existing inside animal brains connect and interact using mathematical models, which we usually call Artificial Neural Networks, and implementation of those models in computer language in the 60s, we have seen great efforts in extending this idea in both theory and application.

In theoretical level, it is a journey from shallow to deep.

The first ANN contains a single layer of neurons between its input and output layers, while the modern day ANNs consist of hundreds of layers with millions of neurons.

Parallel to the theoretic development, in application level, it is a bottom-up journey from the success of approximating basic non-linear functions, all the way to approach or exceeding human-level accuracy in recognising natural images, Go game, etc., just to name a few.

In the recent years, the growing number of ANN-based Computer Vision (CV) applications are direct results of the boom of the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) computing technology, which renders training deep ANNs containing millions of neurons possible.

This motivates the development of multiple deep ANNs with increasing number of layers. The depth of ANNs, however, is not the sole factor contributing to the success of these applications.

A novel operation used for connecting layers inside modern ANNs, the so-called convolution operation, is another key contributor. This is the main reason why modern ANNs are usually dubbed as CNNs – Convolutional Neural Networks.

CNNs extract, from images, the so-called hierarchical features, where lower levels (lower CNN layers) capture the fine details of objects inside an image while higher levels (higher CNN layers) capture the high-level representations of the objects. These hierarchical features resemble closely the way human vision system works when we look at an image and at the same time recognise objects on the image.

Towards the end of last year, IAG Firemark Ventures had the pleasure of hosting a masterclass event at Stone & Chalk on “Artificial intelligence and the future of personalised decision engines”.

AI is one of the most hyped technology themes of recent years and by now most of us are broadly aware of the profound impact advancements in AI are likely to have on how we work and live in society.

What is less understood however is how AI is being embedded within the algorithmic decision engines that determine what we see, hear, buy and potentially even think throughout our daily lives.

This has an even more profound impact when this is tuned into an AI ‘person’ that builds a relationship with a human – an anthropomorphic AI that feels and acts like someone who cares about you. This is the most persuasive combination of technology in history. It is still frontier territory, likely to be ‘winner takes all’, and is why so many technology giants and world governments are declaring themselves AI first.

You can watch the full recording of the event below: