Q&A: Is MasterCard Start Path and British AI a match made in heaven?

At the end of 2013, MasterCard launched Start Path, a global initiative to support innovative startups developing the next generation of commerce solutions, giving them access to a global network of MasterCard experts, MasterCard customers and partners and the ability to innovate on top of MasterCard solutions.

Now, MasterCard has announced the four new startups that will make up the first global Start Path class, one of which is British AI firm Rainbird.

We spoke to Stephane Wyper, Director of MasterCard Start Path and Ben Taylor, CEO of Rainbird, to learn more about the Start Path program and Rainbird's future plans.

Stephane Wyper

  1. How is MasterCard Start Path different from an accelerator or incubator?

Start Path is very different. We provide a framework for startups that have moved beyond what traditional accelerators offer them. In fact we’ve worked with some businesses that have previously graduated in other accelerators such as TechStars and YCombinator.

We don’t take equity or ownership in intellectual property developed, but we do take an option to invest as we like to work with startups commercially before committing investment. Through Start Path Partners, we offer access to a group of more than 20 leading players in banking, retail, and technology who in turn provide introductions to potential customers or channels. And within our business we give access to over 60 experts who have the acumen to help startups navigate regulatory challenges, shape ideal technology platforms and build a clear brand strategy. The startups don’t need to relocate, which is something that becomes a cumbersome requirement with many accelerator models.

  1. What is in it for MasterCard? Does MasterCard financially gain from MasterCard Start Path?

Start Path benefits us in a few ways. The startups are potential customers or partners that can link directly into our business and strategic priorities. They also add value to our existing connections who are actively seeking these types of leading-edge technologies and capabilities. And by letting startups build and innovate on top of our products and tools we can maintain our tradition of being part of the broader commerce space.

  1. Rainbird is not in the payments business so why is MasterCard working with them?

We’re keen to explore artificial intelligence as a way for financial institutions to develop a better, more immersive, digital experience for consumers. Combining this with the power of data allows them to better predict future needs. Rainbird is a great example of a startup that is using AI to automate business processes. While that applies to our banking customers, it also applies to us internally, because it could be an opportunity to improve and automate payments processes.

  1. Where has Start Path had success already?

One of the best examples is our partnership with Nymi, a wearable device that monitors a user’s Electrocardiogram (ECG) to verify their identity. Last year Nymi began working with us to develop a Canadian pilot program for secure mobile payments made by wristband, authenticated by the wearer’s heartbeat. Besides leading to an investment deal, it gave them access to our team of experts, our partner networks and an inside glimpse of how the industry works, and they are thriving as a result.

Ben Taylor

  1. How does Rainbird differ from other AI platforms? What do you offer?

We provide a platform for scaling human decision making processes, but we differ from the typical machine learning approaches which start by analysing large sets of data to make some future prediction or decision. We start with what people know, not just the data, and enable our clients to build a model of that knowledge that learns from there. We enable enterprises to quickly build and deploy tools that scale-up the human decision making within their organisation, bringing quality and consistency of judgement. We’ve had scenarios where we show our platform to business people with no experience of coding, and by the afternoon they’re showing us prototypes they’ve built.

  1. There must be lots of big corporates interested in Rainbird – why MasterCard and Start Path?

The payment industry is broad and touches every aspect of society. And by partnering with MasterCard through StartPath, we’re gaining unprecedented access to large global corporates all of whom stand to benefit significantly from our technology. Having the support and the trust of MasterCard adds weight and credibility to what we’re doing in our projects with other financial service organisations.

  1. What does this mean for the future of payments and the role for AI?

AI delivers efficiency but also augmentation. We are seeing a growing trend toward knowledge work automation, where businesses and their customers benefit from an ability to deliver a nuanced judgement, cost-effectively and at scale. AI also provides new opportunities to innovate. Markets such as payments are ripe for disruption through the deployment of AI.

  1. What is your ultimate dream for the business?

As AI develops, society can benefit from this ability to structure and augment human expertise. Rainbird is well placed to become the leader in the field of structured knowledge engineering and automation. We can become the go-to platform for building powerful tools based on human decision making, that can learn from access to big data and millions of customer-staff interactions.

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