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

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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 financing.

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 utilizes AI/machine learning, augmented with a network of about 55,000 human translators, to power translations across multiple text-based content and communication, like email, chat, websites and more. This is delivered via an API and integrations with the likes of Salesforce, Zendesk, WordPress, Mailchimp, along with other business software.

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

Another place that he plans to bolster is sales and marketing, something that the startup hasn’t focused on very much thus far (although it will possess a U.S. office primarily dedicated to earnings, in addition to its Portugal product and engineering HQ).

One of those challenges, he says, is educating the marketplace that a remedy like Unbabel exists. This is, one that isn’t a binary choice between machine translation, like google Translate, or simply throwing humans who speak more than 1 language at the issue.

Unbabel’s platform was made to fortify machines with humans and vice versa, and to varying degrees, based on the kind of content being translated and the proper trade off between rate and accuracy/nuance.

By way of instance, a customer care chat might employ more machine translation in order to keep the conversation near realtime, whereas email is asynchronous to begin with and consequently renders the luxury of slower response times and extra individual augmentation.

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

Adds Nick Nigam, Primary at Samsung Next, in a statement: “We’re drawn by technology that break down geographical barriers. Unbabel, with its ever decreasing cost per word, is empowering borderless communicating at a professional, scalable, and economical manner”.

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