Three takeaways from Waabi CEO Raquel Urtasun’s entrepreneurial journey

Raquel Urtasun may be a leading expert in machine learning and computer vision – but that doesn’t mean she likes to talk about her skills.

In fact, the CEO of self-driving vehicle company Waabi says he had to overcome his humble nature when trying to pitch big-name investors. she had the winning formula to transform the self-driving industry.

“You have to say (to venture capitalists) – why you, why this team and why this technology in a very compelling way,” says Urtasun.

The approach worked. Urtasun, a professor in the computer science department at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, secured $100 million in seed capital — one of the largest seed funding rounds in Canadian history. Since then, she has worked on developing the next generation of AI-powered technology for self-driving trucks.

She recently spoke about her entrepreneurial journey during a keynote address at True Blue Impact Day, which marked the culmination of the seventh annual U of T Entrepreneurship Week.

Here are three takeaways from her speech:

Be bold and aim high

As someone who prefers to show others that he can do something, Urtasun says he knew that asking $100 million from a bunch of big-name investors wouldn’t come naturally.

But she was confident in her detailed plan.

“In front of venture capitalists, you can’t be humble,” she says. “They will never fund you.”

Urtasun says he took care to draw a road map of how he plans to use the money.

“I didn’t want to worry about fundraising in six or nine months,” she adds. “We wanted the money so we could execute and build this transformative technology.”

Be strategic about your team

Urtasun is the sole founder of Waabi, but says her team and the investors she worked with were incredibly important in building the company. She adds that she knew early on that she wanted to work with investors in the tech and AI sectors — including colleagues at U of T AI. Geoffrey Hinton and Sanja Fidler – because he would better understand Waabi’s mission.

“I think it’s important to have people you can rely on and support each other,” she says.

Investments from Uber, Khosla Ventures, BDC Capital and others have enabled the company to develop Waabi World, an advanced simulator to test its autonomous vehicles, and Waabi Driver, the first generation of self-driving trucks.

Ignore the competition

“My philosophy is to write a strategy and focus on it,” Urtasun says, adding that it’s important to keep the naysayers away.

Case in point: When she first started the company two years ago, she says she heard people say she got into the auto industry “too late.”

“What I heard a lot of times was ‘everyone is on this path, what are you doing?’ What I hear today is ‘how did you time that perfectly?'” she says. “And nothing has changed, right? I just focused on doing my job.”

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