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Behavox, a SoftBank-backed AI data analytics startup, is moving its global hub to Montreal

CEO Erkin Adylov and Behavox employees at a company retreat in Montreal earlier this year. Behavox
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Behavox, a New York- and London-based AI data analytics company backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, is moving its global hub to Montreal and is looking to employ 500 people, The Logic has learned. 

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Talking Point

Behavox CEO and founder Erkin Adylov said the company was attracted to Montreal’s “deep pool of technical talent and expertise” and a growing demand for data-protection compliance software from Canada’s financial institutions. Behavox, which received a US$100-million injection from SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2, will be looking to house half of its projected 1,000-member workforce in the city as it chases an IPO.

The company has signed a US$35-million lease commitment for the top two floors at Maison Manuvie in downtown Montreal. Behavox has had an R&D-focused office in the city since 2018, which it promised would grow to 200 people. It currently houses 75 staff, but with the expanded real estate footprint, the company is now planning to have half of its projected 1,000-member workforce in Montreal in the next few years. 

CEO and founder Erkin Adylov told The Logic the company will look to hire 15 to 20 people every month. “Montreal will be by far our biggest office,” he said, adding that he himself is relocating there from New York City.

According to Adylov, the motivations for Behavox’s expansion are twofold: Montreal’s “deep pool of technical talent and expertise” and a growing demand for data-protection compliance software from Canada’s financial institutions. The company currently serves over a dozen banks and pension funds in Canada, the names of which Adylov was “prohibited” from disclosing, and hopes to grow its Canadian clientele to “the low teens” by the end of the year. 

To do so, Adylov said he wanted to be “closer to them,” noting that around 20 to 25 per cent of the company’s global revenues comes from Canada, which is home to “some of [Behavox’s] largest customers.” 

Founded in 2014, Behavox has created what it advertises as “the only end-to-end data operating platform” in the world. It uses artificial intelligence and deep learning to aggregate and analyze corporate data, to both secure it and make it searchable. The platform can then be used to ensure compliance with regulations, gain insights  into risk in business operations by identifying rogue activity among employees or system breaches, and project sales and profits.

According to Adylov, the platform is “a Google-like search for private data”—although the company’s measure of success, he said, is to have the corporate world switch the phrase “let’s Google it” to “let’s Behavox it.” 

“Our mission is about organizing and making useful all the private data on the planet,” Adylov said. “We are essentially archiving or aggregating all of the communications data that is being generated by the companies, be it Slack messages, emails, et cetera … and make it searchable.” 

Behavox announced a US$100-million investment from SoftBank Vision Fund 2 in February—one of five investments the fund made before it entered a state of limbo. 

Adylov told Business Insider that SoftBank was in the market for compliance software for its internal operations, which led to the investment. Adylov wouldn’t say if the investment was a driving factor behind the Montreal expansion, noting that the company had been profitable for quite some time. 

Adylov said he had long sought to shift Behavox’s global hub, saying that London had an abundance of customers but “a shallow talent pool,” and calling New York City just a financial, not a technological hub.

“I needed to be closer to our customers…. I needed a technology hub somewhere in North America,” he said. “We toyed around with Mexico, but Montreal has everything. It has a depth of talent, technical expertise and customers.” 

The company’s expansion and relocation has received public backing from Investissement Québec (IQ), Montréal International and the Quebec government, but no direct subsidy. Hubert Bolduc, president of IQ, told The Logic Behavox’s decision was a “boost” for the province’s AI sector, and part of a growing trend that’s seen Montreal attract Big Tech companies like Facebook and Google over the last three years, which opened smaller shops and then expanded a few years later. 

“They come in, like what they see and stay and grow,” Bolduc said, crediting the city’s low cost of living and culture, the over 1,300 AI scientists and experts, the federal Scale AI supercluster program and provincial tax credits for research and development. 

Bolduc added that the city was seeing a growing cybersecurity sector, with many AI talent naturally shifting there. “Behavox is the combination of both,” he said. “They’re using machine learning to help prevent fraud. Montreal is a great place to do that.”

Adylov said Behavox would benefit, for example, from the growing user interface expertise in Montreal’s engineering community, which he attributed to the city’s burgeoning gaming industry. He also noted the contributions of organizations like Element AI and Mila in establishing Montreal as a centre for artificial intelligence. Adylov doesn’t, however, consider these AI firms competitors. 

“The only thing we share is machine learning, but how we use it couldn’t be more different,” Adylov said. “We actually like the fact that the ecosystem is quite vibrant and there are a lot of companies in the analytics and artificial intelligence space in Montreal.”

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“The more companies in Canada, the more likely the talent pool will improve in quality and breadth and depth. Competition for technical talent is good because it drives innovation, it drives improvement in the quality of products.”

Adylov added he was  “keen to establish relationships with governments directly” so the company can “make big investments in the Canadian economy” and “contribute directly to the communities.”

With the Montreal expansion underway, Adylov’s next step is to invest in Behavox’s core technology by hiring more product engineers and data scientists. He is also eyeing an IPO, the timing of which, he said, depends on market conditions. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re labelled a Canadian IPO and a Canadian success,” he said.