Sama, a San Francisco artificial intelligence (AI) training data firm

Sama, a San Francisco artificial intelligence (AI) training data firm, plans to grow its headcount in Montréal to 300 employees by 2023 to support its platform development goals.

Sama currently has about 45 employees in Montréal, who focus primarily on research and development (R&D). Sama is increasing the size of its Montréal team with $70 million USD ($87 million CAD) in new Series B funding led by Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) and supported by other Canadian investors.

Although Sama is technically headquartered in San Francisco, the startup has more employees based in Montréal and plans to grow its Montréal hub to at least 54 employees by the end of the year.

 “Montréal’s the core of our development strategy.”

-Sama CEO Wendy Gonzalez

In an interview with BetaKit, Sama CEO Wendy Gonzalez said the startup first decided to expand to Montréal in 2019 given the strength of the city’s tech ecosystem, favourable tax and government incentives, and the presence of strong institutions like McGill University and the Québec Artificial Intelligence Institute (Mila).

Now, following its latest funding round, Sama’s focus is on building out its R&D efforts in Montréal, where it aims to invest $100 million USD over the next three years.

“Montréal’s the core of our development strategy,” said Gonzalez. “We are a software company, we’re building an innovative platform to really allow companies to rapidly develop AI applications, and Montréal is our R&D centre of excellence.”

Founded in 2008, Sama (formerly Samasource) offers an end-to-end data pipeline for companies building with AI. The startup’s platform aims to help firms speed up the AI product development process by providing “industry-leading” training data. Sama’s clients include Google, Walmart, General Motors and NVIDIA.

Sama first opened its Montréal office in 2019 following its Series A round. Since then, Gonzalez said the startup, which has orchestrated Hackathons at McGill, has seen the strength of the city’s tech ecosystem. Now, Sama’s looking to hire across the board in Montréal.

Gonzalez sees strong opportunities to collaborate with Montréal’s burgeoning AI ecosystem, including Mila in particular, with which it has already conducted a research project. The CEO also identified the potential to serve the city’s burgeoning AI startups, which could become Sama customers.

Today, most of Sama’s product team is in Montréal, where the startup also has employees working in marketing and customer success roles. Given how in demand top talent is right now, Gonzalez said the chance to tap into Montréal’s strong and fast-growing tech labour pool played a role in its decision to expand its presence in the city.

Montréal added over 38,000 tech jobs since 2015, according to CBRE’s 2021 Scoring Tech Talent report. This represents more than 31 percent growth, making it the fourth fastest-growing city in North America after Seattle. The city’s tech labour pool of nearly 161,000 puts Montréal almost on par with much more populous Chicago, and in the top 10 in the continent overall by size.

“Data is required at every step of the AI development lifecycle, and it needs to be transformed,” said the CEO. “Right now, there are different solutions for every stage, and we aim to be that single platform [for all of them].” To get there, Sama plans to bolster its product development efforts, which is where Montréal comes in.

Gonzalez said Sama aims to have “well over 100” Canadian employees next year. Although the CEO expects “the bulk” of the startup’s hires to be in product engineering and R&D, Sama intends to add in other business segments as well.



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