AI Startup Clinc Snags $52M Series B to Expand Offices, Markets

Ann Arbor, MI-based startup Clinc, which is focused on developing conversational artificial intelligence software for use in chatbots, has raised $52 million in a Series B round, the company announced this week. The round was led by Insight Partners, with participation from DFJ Growth, Drive Capital, and Hyde Park Venture Partners.

As part of the deal, Jeff Lieberman, Insight Partners’ managing director, will join Clinc’s board of directors while DFJ Growth’s Randy Glein will join its board of advisors. Clinc has raised a total of $60 million since its 2015 inception.

Emma Furlong, Clinc’s director of marketing, says the company plans to increase its headcount from roughly 75 people to 140 by the end of the year. Clinc is also planning to move to a new, 26,000-square-foot, three-story office on Main Street in downtown Ann Arbor. Furlong says the company will continue to keep its headquarters in Michigan even as it expands its global footprint; in addition to its existing offices in London, Beijing, and San Francisco, Clinc is planning to open a new location in Los Angeles.

The company was spun out of research conducted at the University of Michigan, where co-founder and CEO Jason Mars directed the Clarity Lab research group before going on leave. Lingjia Tang, Clinc’s co-founder and chief operating officer, is a professor of computer science at U-M, and Furlong says ongoing in-house research projects continue to drive the company forward.

“Our natural language processing engine is more sophisticated than others in the market,” Furlong maintains, and points to its roots in academia as one reason why. Clinc’s AI is designed to work regardless of language, industry, or geography by understanding unstructured, unconstrained speech. The company says its software can interpret semantics, intent, and the underlying meaning of user queries.

Furlong says that what makes the company different from others in the crowded AI field is its focus on the end-user experience. Clinc’s new Ann Arbor office will include a training space for its customers and their employees, where they can learn how to use and personalize the company’s chatbot software.

Although Clinc started with financial technology applications, working with USAA, Barclay’s, and Isbank, it has since branched out into other sectors, including gaming, healthcare, and food service. Clinc is also currently working with Ford on “in-vehicle experience” technology, Furlong says.

“We’re looking into the car being the center of controlling other devices, like smart devices in the home,” she adds. “Instead of the Internet of Things, it’s the voice assistant of things.”

Furlong calls Clinc’s financing round a “great step forward” for Midwestern entrepreneurship, noting that the average Series B round for Michigan companies is about $20 million. The company also says it has raised “the largest single investment in the history of conversational AI startups.”

Clinc plans to spend the rest of 2019 expanding its staff, its enterprise customer base, and its market reach. Furlong says she expects to announce a new partner in the quick-service restaurant sector later this year.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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