Enkidoo: AI for everyone
Pholysa Mantryvong’s Story
Enkidoo is a new company that enables small independent retailers and small and medium-sized businesses a way of simplifying their supply chain and demand-side management through artificial intelligence. The services he offers also include a smart personal assistant that provides guidance in inventory and supply management.
Thanks to natural language processing, a retailer can communicate directly with their professional applications through the intermediary of tools like Slack or Facebook Messenger, thereby benefiting from guidance in the optimization of inventories, supply chain management and sales in addition to receiving complex reports. “Our goal is to democratize access to artificial intelligence in order to allow small and medium-sized businesses to have access to the same tools as big companies,” explains Mantryvong.
Learning from your mistakes to refine your venture
Mantryvong completed his degree in industrial engineering at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. After working in the aerospace sector with Pratt and Whitney, he moved to Chicago to join a consulting firm. “That was a big learning opportunity which allowed me to become familiar with the world of entrepreneurship by attempting to find solutions to our clients’ problems using technology,” he states. Upon returning to Montreal, he felt he might have the knowledge necessary to start his own business, yet he still hesitated. At that point he was asked to join a group of young professionals to participate in Soirée Désorientation, a charitable event benefitting GRIS Montréal, a local community organization dedicated to fighting for gay, lesbian and bisexual rights. “I told myself that if I was capable of selling a cause I really believed in, I would be capable of selling my own business venture.”
At the time, he was employed as a consultant while working on his business model. “I didn’t have just one idea—I was full of ideas, that was the problem. My venture wasn’t yet well defined,” explains Mantryvong. He took part in three acceleration programs and completed an initial version of the software he had in mind, which nevertheless was not successful. He then realized that starting a business didn’t mean just finding a good idea or successfully completing the conceptualization phase for a product—you also needed to know how to market it. “This was a really difficult period, I had to lay off several employees. So I decided to take a break and think things over,” explains Enkidoo’s founder.
Creating your own network to share knowledge and experiences
Mantryvong was part of the group Queer Tech Montréal, and it was thanks to them that he discovered Fier Départ, which aims to facilitate the transition from the university to the business world for LGBTQ students and young professionals. In 2017, he took part in the Venture Out conference, in which his pitch outlined the fundamentals of the solution offered by Enkidoo. That same year, he took part in Next Founders, a NEXT Canada program to support promising entrepreneurs by providing them with mentorship and access to funding. “That gave me the confidence I needed to continue, and it allowed me to see the problem I wanted to work on and the solution I planned to offer more clearly,” explains Mantryvong.
Meeting Alexandre Vincart-Émard, a physics PhD and Enkidoo’s future technology director, was also a critical juncture. “He decided to join the team because he really thought we had potential. It’s crucial to surround yourself with people who have complementary specialties and can share their expertise.” Together, they continued to develop their artificial intelligence solution and also discovered Espace CDPQ | Axe IA, an entrepreneurial initiative that aims to accelerate the commercialization of products and services that involve AI.
“In Montreal, we have a unique ecosystem that enables us to succeed. Just being able to share your experiences with others and collaborate is an incredible opportunity.”
For Mantryvong, getting help from mentors who are also part of the LGBTQ community he lives in is also important. One day he happened to come upon an article by Mathieu Charest in Les Affaires magazine called “La LGBT connection.” After reading it, he decided to meet with Dax Dasilva, the CEO of Lightspeed. “He said to me, ‘Forget the questions, tell me what you’re doing.’” It was the start of a partnership with the Quebec multinational in which Enkidoo enables Lightspeed customers to experience an improved transition solution to technologies based on cloud computing. “The key to success is a mix of opportunities, luck and risk-taking,” confirms Mantryvong. “Getting through that first door is always the most difficult. But once you’re there, it gives you the confidence you need to go further.”
Getting ahead by getting involved in the community
Mantryvong works relentlessly on refining his product, which he plans on unveiling in the summer of 2019. His ambition is to make Enkidoo the leading platform in product demand, forecast and supply chain management for independent retailers and small businesses.
And just like at the start of his career, he’s never stopped getting involved in the causes he believes in, whether it’s the promotion of arts and culture, the fight against youth homelessness or homophobia. Even though it might not be easy to find one’s place, he seems to have found his. “Some people grew up in the entrepreneurial milieu. But in my case, I was the son of second-generation immigrants—I come from a humble family from Montreal North. It looked like my future would be in engineering, but I’ve always had a rebellious side and a desire not to follow convention. Owning your own business means constantly confronting new challenges. But I’m ready to take on experiences I might not be prepared for. It’s important to have an aggressive mindset, because there’s no manual to help you.”
Enkidoo in Numbers
12: number of employees at Enkidoo
Want to learn more?
Visit Enkidoo’s website