Unbabel raises $23M for its ‘AI-powered, human-refined’ translation platform

Fundings and Exits

Lisbon-headquartered Unbabel, a startup that has developed what it describes as an “AI-powered, human-refined” translation platform that makes it more cost effective to conduct business globally, has raised $23 million in Series B funding.

The round is led by Scale Venture Partners, with participation from Microsoft Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, Samsung Next, Notion Capital, Caixa Capital, and Funders Club. It follows a $5 million Series A round in October 2016.

A graduate of Y Combinator’s 2014 Winter Batch, Unbabel uses AI/machine learning, augmented with a network of around 55,000 human translators, to power translations across multiple text-based content and communication, such as email, chat, websites and more. This is delivered via an API and integrations with the likes of Salesforce, Zendesk, WordPress, Mailchimp, and other enterprise software.

In a call with Unbabel co-founder and CEO Vasco Pedro, he explained that the company plans to use the additional capital to invest further in the AI/machine learning side of the platform, which has increasingly come into play as Unbabel scales.

Another area that he plans to bolster is sales and marketing, something that the startup hasn’t focused on very much to date (although it does have a U.S. office primarily dedicated to sales, in addition to its Portugal product and engineering HQ).

One of the challenges, he says, is educating the market that a solution like Unbabel exists. That is, one that isn’t a binary choice between machine translation, such as Google Translate, or simply throwing humans who speak more than one language at the problem.

Unbabel’s platform is designed to augment machines with humans and vice versa, and to varying degrees, depending on the type of content being translated and the appropriate trade off between speed and accuracy/nuance.

For example, a customer support chat might employ more machine translation in order to keep the conversation near realtime, whereas email is asynchronous to begin with and therefore affords the luxury of slower response times and additional human augmentation.

Unbabel is already used by well-known companies including Facebook (Oculus), Buzzfeed, Booking.com, Pinterest, and Under Armour. Pedro reckons that the startup’s new investors with ties to Microsoft, Salesforce, and Samsung should help it penetrate the enterprise further.

Adds Nick Nigam, Principal at Samsung Next, in a statement: “We are attracted by technologies that break down geographic barriers. Unbabel, with its ever decreasing cost per word, is enabling borderless communication in a professional, scalable, and affordable manner”.

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