Ottawa Changemakers: Rebel-at-heart Rima Al Shikh is democratizing data through Begin.AI

“I believe in democratizing information and democratizing access to opportunities,” says Rima Al Shikh.
Editor's Note

Ottawa Changemakers is presented by Invest Ottawa and RBC Royal Bank.

Growing up, Rima Al Shikh was, in her own words, a bit of a rebel. 

“I had these massive ideas and (my mom) would be like, ‘I’m sure you’re gonna be great, (but) you’ve got school.’” 

Al Shikh says as a child she was “obsessed with computers” — an interest that was nurtured by her father, who taught her basic programming. “Programming is sometimes easier for me than any other form of expression,” Al Shikh admits.

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Before long, Al Shikh was freelancing for various businesses and by age 22 had started her own company. 

“Entrepreneurship is not easy,” Al Shikh says. “It’s a constant uphill climb, but it brings me great joy to be solving problems.” 

Born in Syria, Al Shikh lived in Dubai for 12 years. During that time, she built two businesses from the ground up and helped with the growth of other companies. 

In 2018, she moved to Canada and began work as an AI consultant for a variety of firms across North America and Europe, including Fortune 100 enterprises. 

Then, COVID-19 struck and Al Shikh and her wife were stuck at home. In the stillness that followed, a new idea began percolating. 

Al Shikh, now 34, says she had always wanted to build a lightweight, simple technology that allows users to access information easily. 

“I believe in democratizing information and democratizing access to opportunities,” she says.

To achieve that, Al Shikh founded Begin.AI, a platform that allows developers to quickly and easily integrate machine learning into applications. In turn, this allows businesses to reduce the cost of personalizing software and gives them access to invaluable information about users’ habits. 

While helping businesses dodge the need for expensive programming, Begin.AI also strengthens security and data privacy for consumers. 

Al Shikh says that, when you use an app like an e-commerce platform or mobile game, it can feel a little like you’re being spied on due to the sheer amount of information that the app has about you. From the perspective of the business, reaching that level of personalization requires the “hoarding of so much data, which is extremely complex,” she says. 

With Begin.AI, whenever a consumer interacts with an app, their information is processed inside their device and never sent to the cloud, making the app extremely safe and private — as well as faster.

Another use-case for Begin.AI is cross-app learning, where business owners learn from one another’s data without having to share information about their users. Begin.AI’s algorithms do all the heavy lifting, allowing multiple businesses to collaborate without a huge upfront investment in time, money or resources.

While still relatively new, the use of AI in mobile apps is likely to increase. As well as being championed by Invest Ottawa, Begin.AI secured $1 million in venture capital from Sandpiper Ventures and Tom Williams. 

In just two years, Al Shikh’s company has grown to a team of 10, landed one of the world’s largest gaming studios as a client, and is expanding into the U.S. and China. 

From the outside, this might look like rapid success, but for Al Shikh it’s been a long journey to where she is today. 

“I approach every problem with curiosity and I think that came from childhood,” she says. “It allows me to examine myself and that allows me to examine the world with an open mind.”

Ottawa Changemakers highlights entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds and lived experiences who are making a difference in the city.

Invest Ottawa is Ottawa’s lead economic development agency for knowledge-based industries. Guided by a vision to be a globally recognized, innovative, inclusive and future-ready city, Invest Ottawa delivers programs and services that catalyze the growth and success of entrepreneurs and firms.

RBC Royal Bank is a global financial institution with a purpose-driven, principles-led approach to delivering leading performance and creating value for clients and communities.

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