Advanced Symbolics shaking up opinion polling using customized Artificial Intelligence

Ottawa’s Advanced Symbolics is building a brisk business out of taking the pulse of public sentiment, and it’s doing so without ever picking up the phone.

According to CEO Erin Kelly and her team, traditional telephone polling is dead. Online polling tools that expect citizens to take the time and accurately self-report are a long-shot, at best.

Enter Polly.

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Polly is Advanced Symbolics’ customized artificial intelligence (AI). Polly is a patented self-learning system that reads and analyzes what people say and do online to get the true measure of what they really think. It’s polling without having to ask anyone a direct question.

“With Polly, we can get good representative samples by age, gender, geographical location and other demographics,” said CEO Erin Kelly. “For crisis communications situations, we can turn a request around in 48 hours. It truly is the ‘better, faster, cheaper’ alternative to the status quo.”

No subject is too esoteric. Polly has successfully forecast the outcomes of the Canadian federal election, the American presidential election and the Brexit vote. At the other end of the spectrum, it has tracked the sentiments of small business owners and public servants within a single municipality.

A new project involves the controversial Netflix show about teen suicide, 13 Reasons Why. Polly is studying the online/social media activities of teens to see what impact the show’s subject matter is having on their perceptions, and intentions, regarding suicide.

“We increase democratic engagement,” Kelly said. “Polly allows us to see what people are truly concerned or frustrated about and get insight into what societal trends are really at work.”

Overcoming the growing pains of early success

Advanced Symbolics recently won a contract with the municipal government of Quebec City for origin destination research to optimize public transit routes, and a three-year standing offer from Destination Canada. Investors have come knocking. So have potential clients from the U.S. and the U.K. The company is already cash-flow positive, but needs additional capital to fund its growth plans.

That’s a lot of progress for a company that incorporated less than two years ago. Last summer, Kelly and her team realized they needed professional legal counsel to ensure they were ready to receive investors.
“We needed to put a stronger ownership structure in place, to make us as efficient as possible and put us in a good place to grow internationally,” Kelly said.

They turned to Dirk Bouwer, Partner in the Business Law Group at full-service Ottawa law firm Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP/s.r.l.

“Like any fast-growing company, Advanced Symbolics faced a lot of challenges, both from a business perspective to keep up with the demands of customers, and from a legal perspective to ensure the company’s structure is well thought out and adaptable for growth,” said Bouwer.

Securing investors, without sacrificing the vision

Crucial for Kelly and her team is securing the growth capital the company needs for its expansion, with appropriate shareholder agreements. The visionaries behind Advanced Symbolics don’t want to lose control to larger investors, or be hampered by a multitude of small investors all trying to have their say in the operation of the business. This requires a complex share structure that allows for different classes of shares.

“Dirk and his team are ensuring we have the corporate structure and controls in place to make it easy for investors to work with us,” Kelly said.

“Advanced Symbolics needs a law firm with a broad base of knowledge and a broad base of skills,” said Bouwer. “We have the tax, patent, securities and multimillion-dollar financing experience Erin and her team need. It’s exciting to work with a business at this stage and I have every confidence that Advanced Symbolics will continue to take off.”

To learn more about how Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall can help grow your business, visit

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