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SmartAssist CEO Pradeep Rathinam. Photo via SmartAssist.

A new Seattle-based artificial intelligence startup just raised cash to help companies improve their customer support processes.

SmartAssist today announced a $5 million Series A round from Madrona Venture Group. The 10-person company will use the fresh funding to hire more employees and further develop its product, which is already being used by customers like Twilio, Groupon, MailChimp, and others.

SmartAssist is a spin-out of GE. In 2016, GE acquired a machine learning startup called Wise.io. SmartAssist co-founders, CEO Pradeep Rathinam and CTO Prashant Luthra, licensed the core technology from Wise.io and transitioned its customers to what ultimately turned into SmartAssist, which counts former Wise.io CEO Jeff Erhardt as a board member.

Rathinam, a 17-year veteran of Microsoft who was previously CEO of Aditi Technologies, described SmartAssist as an “artificial intelligence service in the customer support space that boosts agent productivity and reduces costs through automation.”

“We use a set of sophisticated NLP algorithms that read and understand all the interactions from past tickets between the customer support agent and the customer,” he told GeekWire. “Once implemented, SmartAssist enables a business to automatically respond to simple known issues and more importantly assist the agents with the top three recommended responses to specific questions.”

SmartAssist, which integrates with existing customer experience systems like Zendesk and Salesforce, is ideal for companies that handle more than 10,000 support requests per month. Rathinam said the technology can help customers see a 40 percent improvement in agent productivity within one month.

“We believe this is a greenfield opportunity as we provide a layer of intelligence and actions over existing customer support systems,” he added. “We have a simple use case of AI/machine learning that is practical and easy to understand. We are single-minded about answering/solving the questions that customers pose to a business.”

S. “Soma” Somasegar, managing director at Madrona Venture Group who is joining SmartAssist’s board, said that the firm sees big opportunities for startups that are using machine learning and artificial intelligence to automate workflows. SmartAssist fits that mold, given the repetitive and data-rich nature of customer support.

“As we think about beachhead use cases of ML/AI within enterprises, customer support stands out as one of the most tangible areas that could be fundamentally disrupted through technology,” he wrote in a blog post. “By using intelligent routing, automated responses, and predictive modeling, SmartAssist helps enterprises significantly increase the efficiency and quality of services while decreasing customer service costs.”

SmartAssist CTO Prashant Luthra, Madrona Venture Group Managing Director S. “Soma” Somasegar, and SmartAssist CEO Pradeep Rathinam. (Photo via Madrona)

SmartAssist, which plans to grow its workforce from 10 people to 25 by next year, is the latest Seattle-area company using machine learning and artificial intelligence as part of its core technology. Last year, Madrona hosted an event that focused on this vertical, which has become a recent investment theme for the venture capital firm.

“In our opinion, any application of consequence that is getting built now is an intelligent application,” Somasegar wrote in the blog post. “What differentiates the intelligent applications is the use of ML/AI and other techniques to apply on the ever-increasing data-sets that enable applications to continuously learn and deliver more relevant and appropriate experience for the customers.”

SmartAssist is still closely connected to GE and expects to work with the company as it grows. In addition to Erhardt’s board seat, GE Ventures has an equity stake in SmartAssist.

“SmartAssist was born out of the successful acquisition of Wise.io,” Pat Patnode, president of licensing and technology ventures at GE Ventures, said in a statement. “We recognized that the technology had great applications in areas that went beyond GE’s core industrial market strategy. Through GE Ventures’ Licensing team, we were able to incubate and spin out an innovative AI service company, with incredible technology and a very knowledgeable team.”

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