BY TAYLOR SOPER
GeekWire first reported about the stealthy Seattle startup back in June. The company spun out of AI2 and is the first to land cash from the organization’s pre-seed fund.
Panda AI raised a total of $3.3 million in a round led by PSL Ventures, with participation from AI2 and Ascend VC. Others including DocuSign co-founder Court Lorenzini and Smartsheet co-founder Eric Brown also invested.
The company is led by CEO Aaron Goldfeder, who previously co-founded EnergySavvy, an enterprise analytics company acquired by Uplight in 2019. His co-founder and CTO is Yue Ning, a former software engineer at Amazon, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Qualtrics, where he led teams focused on text analytics. Ning also previously founded Seattle-based natural language processing startup Civet AI.
Panda is still staying quiet about its product, which uses AI to simplify work and combine various tasks. In a blog post, Goldfeder detailed the founding story, citing frustrations with how teams across a company — professional services, customer success, sales, product, operations, and exec sponsors — work in unison.
“At heart, we think the way teams stay on the same page about stuff is badly broken,” he said. “With today’s technology, we can do better.”
Goldfeder and Ning met at AI2 where they were both entrepreneur-in-residences at AI2.
“So there we were,” Goldfeder wrote in the blog post. “He, an expert on modern NLP AI research and product technology. Me, a former SaaS CEO, burning with fury on the need for a better way to understand what is going on across teams.”
AI2 raised $10 million this past January for the seed fund and incubator that fosters new AI-oriented startups on the frontiers of deep learning, computer vision and natural language processing. The program has already been able to hatch a brood of successful AI-centric spin-outs, starting with Kitt.ai (acquired by Baidu in 2017) and continuing with the likes of Xnor.ai (acquired by Apple in January), Lexion, Blue Canoe and WellSaid Labs.
The incubator is backed by some of the nation’s top venture capital institutions, such as Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group, Silicon Valley’s Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins, and New York’s Two Sigma Ventures.
Pre-seed funding is paid out according to a checkpoint system that could result in as much as $800,000 in support for a promising startup. AI2 plans to spin out 12 companies from the $10 million fund over the next few years.
The late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen created AI2 in 2014. The organization has more than 100 researchers on its staff who have notched various achievements over the past five years. In addition to the successful spinouts, AI2 has spawned projects ranging from the Semantic Scholar search engine to an AI-enabled guessing game called Iconary.
AI2 is led by CEO Oren Etzioni, a longtime professor at the University of Washington and venture partner at Madrona who previously started and sold Farecast (to Microsoft) and Decide (to eBay). UW President Ana Mari Cauce joined the AI2 board earlier this year.