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Jean Paoli, a pioneer in the field of document engineering, is founder and CEO of a new Kirkland, Wash.-based AI document engineering startup called Docugami. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

A new startup led by the former president of Microsoft’s open-source subsidiary plans to uses artificial intelligence to reshape the way documents are created and used inside companies.

Jean Paoli, who was also a co-creator of the industry-wide XML 1.0 standard, Microsoft InfoPath and modern Microsoft Office file formats, has been running the AI document engineering startup Docugami in stealth mode for the past year. The company says it’s creating new AI techniques using machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing and novel XML approaches.

Docugami says its software-as-a-service product will help companies, as part of their normal workflow, create everyday documents such as contracts and reports that can then be analyzed and repurposed as if the contents were stored in a structured database. The idea is to make frontline users more efficient while giving executives better insights and helping with compliance.

The technology promises to “unlock the power of documents,” Paoli said in an interview with GeekWire, describing the approach as a natural evolution of his career in document engineering.

One important distinction, he said, is that Docugami isn’t simply helping companies analyze documents, but also assisting in the creation of documents in the first place, using plugins and connectors for existing software and productivity tools. The technology works without intervention or help from an IT department, he said.

“We are not a data mining company,” Paoli said. “We have a very holistic view of documents.”

Docugami has developed a minimum viable product, and the company is about six to nine months from launching a public version in beta, Paoli estimated.

Based in Kirkland, Wash., Docugami has 15 AI scientists and engineers on its team. It has been self-funded so far. Docugami is preparing to raise its Series A funding round, with a goal of raising $10 million to $12 million to fund further development and rollout of the technology.

The startup’s name is a combination of document and origami or kirigami, reflecting what Paoli described as the ability to create and find patterns in documents to unlock business insights.

“I’m a document guy. I’m almost obsessed by documents,” he said. “My core engineering chops, what I’ve done for 30 years, is literally documents.”

Paoli’s career in document engineering is an example of what can happen with the evolution of technology, as new capabilities emerge to support and reshape a longstanding vision.

“The technology that can be applied to the structure in documents with the power of machine learning today is unique compared even to just a few years ago when we were working on the design of XML,” said Eric Rudder, a former Microsoft executive vice president, Server & Tools division leader and technical adviser to Bill Gates who worked with Paoli at Microsoft and is now co-founder at Seattle cloud startup Pulumi. “Many of us were able to see many dramatic shifts in technology and every time there’s a paradigm change, it inspires you to think differently about the solutions you want to build.”

Paoli’s career at Microsoft included a role as president of Microsoft Open Technologies, the company’s open-source and open-standards subsidiary. Before joining Microsoft, Paoli also spent 10 years developing several startup companies at INRIA, the renowned French national institute for computer science and applied mathematics.

Paoli described his background in a 2014 Geek of the Week profile in GeekWire: “I lived a third of my life in Beirut (during the Lebanese Civil War, in a country once a crossroads of civilizations), a third in Paris, and a third in the Seattle area (Kirkland). I also have Greek origins, and I am fascinated by China. …. I grew up speaking French and Lebanese and I am deeply and emotionally rooted in France as I was immersed in the French ideals of Liberté, Egalite, Fraternité. I am now proudly naturalized American and love our beautiful Pacific Northwest.”

“Jean has always had a phenomenal ability to foresee the future,” said Charles Fitzgerald, a Seattle-area angel investor who has known and worked with Paoli for more than 20 years. “He can see around the corner, sometimes even multiple corners, and matches that vision with very persistent execution.”

Fitzgerald added, “We live in a world where almost every company claims to be doing some kind of AI/ML, but Docugami is very unique in both the altitude they are operating with the focus on entire documents as well as their deep and multi-dimensional application of machine learning.”

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