Saudi Aramco’s venture capital arm leads $3.4m round for Egyptian AI start-up Intella

Funding will be used to expand across Mena and enhance its Arabic speech-to-text AI service

Intella says its new funding will help it to enhance its product suite. Photo: Intella
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Intella, an Egyptian deep technology start-up focusing on artificial intelligence has raised $3.4 million in a pre-Series A funding round led by two of Saudi Arabia's biggest venture capital funds.

The start-up is seeking to expand its operations in the Middle East and North Africa and enhance its Arabic speech-to-text service.

Its investment round was led by Al Khobar-based Hala Ventures and Wa’ed Ventures, the venture capital arm of the world's biggest oil exporting company Saudi Aramco, Cairo-based Intella said on Tuesday.

The funders also included Sanabil 500, the start-up accelerator programme under Sanabil Investments, which is owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, and the angel investor network of the Insead Business School.

The investment will help Intella, which aims to bridge the gap between the Arab-speaking world and advancements in AI, to enhance its product suite and "solidify its leadership in voice technology innovation", it said.

It will also support Intella's expansion into Saudi Arabia, where it established its headquarters in May, enabling it to tap into the kingdom's growing technology and AI sectors, it said.

"Saudi Arabia is quickly becoming a hub for technological advances. This move fits perfectly with our plans for expansion," Nour Taher, chief executive and co-founder of Intella, said.

One of the start-up's flagship services is Intella Voice, a multi-dialect Arabic transcriber that converts speech to text.

Intella said the service passed through Arabic audio testing lasting more than 30,000 hours, and obtained a 95.73 per cent accuracy rate.

It surpasses industry leaders including Google’s speech-to-text, ChatGPT maker OpenAI’s Whisper, Meta Platform’s SeamlessM4T and IBM's Watson, the company added.

"Our voice technology tailored for Arabic dialects has set new industry benchmarks. And now, we're moving beyond mere transcription, and focusing on audio analytics – including summarisation, sentiment analysis, topic extraction and call scoring," Omar Mansour, co-founder and chief technology officer of Intella, said.

"We're really pushing the boundaries of what AI can do for voice in our region," Mr Mansour said, as Intella seeks to "ensure the region's relevance in global technological trends".

The race for advancements in AI gained significant momentum with the introduction of ChatGPT, the generative AI platform that has highly advanced conversational capabilities.

Intella said it is using its DeepTech expertise to address the rising demand for specialised Arabic voice technology. DeepTech refers to technology that focuses on providing specialised solutions in advanced sectors, including AI, robotics, blockchain and quantum computing.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is in the midst of implementing a digital transformation strategy, part of its Vision 2030 programme that aims to diversify its economy from oil.

Established in 2013, Wa'ed Ventures is a $500 million venture capital firm that promotes economic diversification and new business growth in Saudi Arabia by investing in high-growth tech start-ups across several sectors. It manages a portfolio of more than 60 start-ups.

Other organisations have been building large language models for Arabic, one of the world's most-spoken languages.

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In August, an Abu Dhabi-developed artificial intelligence large language model for Arabic was unveiled.

Jais, an open-source bilingual Arabic-English model, was developed by Inception, a unit of Abu Dhabi AI company G42, in partnership with Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence and Silicon Valley-based Cerebras Systems.

Abu Dhabi's Technology Innovation Institute has also launched its Noor natural language processing model, which combines linguistics, computer science and AI to support machine learning of human language.

Intella is "making significant strides in connecting global AI progress with the needs of the Arab-speaking community, and it's exactly the kind of initiative the region needs right now", said Ali Abussaud, founding managing partner of Hala Ventures.

Updated: October 04, 2023, 1:11 PM