The startup creating AI jobs for humans: Check out the pitch deck that raised $25M for Prolific

London-based scaleup Prolific raised £25m today to scale its platform, which provides vetted research participants to AI firms that need human feedback to refine their models. The round was co-led by Paris-based venture capital firm Partech and Oxford Science Enterprises, the independent investor partnered with Oxford University.

Prolific, an ally of Y Combinator, tells Sifted the company has had positive cash flow since 2020, but decided to raise funds in response to growing demand for human feedback for AI systems since the launch of ChatGPT last year. year.

What does Prolific do?

When Prolific was founded in 2014, it wasn’t focused on the AI ​​industry at all. The idea arose out of the co-founders’ frustration at not being able to source reliable participants for academic research, with the company initially selling to universities and other research entities.

The startup screens participants before matching them with organizations that need people to research online, providing them with an easily accessible, reliable and diverse pool of individuals for studies.

Prolific takes a 30% cut on the money the organization spends on work, with participants ending up earning an average of $15 an hour.

Co-founder and CEO Phelim Bradley tells Sifted that the recent boom in AI has created a new use case for the company, as companies building AI-powered products require human feedback to improve their performance. results of their systems.

Where our sweet spot is right now is the process called reinforcement learning via human feedback, he says. The way it works is that the AI ​​will spit out more output and then you ask a human to check and let the AI ​​know what is a better and safer answer. Or a more accurate one, which addresses some of the challenges around hallucinations and prejudices.

Bradley says that, in the AI ​​space, Prolific is working with a range of customers, including companies that build their own base models and refine pre-existing models for specialized uses.

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We work with one company, for example, to ensure their mental health chatbot, which is based on large language patterns, is safe and capable of handling a wide variety of different situations, she says. The diversity of our participant pool is really critical when it comes to this so that the AI ​​can interact with a diverse group of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities.

It has a list of successful clients, including Google, Meta, Stanford University, Oxford University, Kings College London and the European Commission.

How is the market?

Prolific isn’t the only company offering research participants to AI companies. Amazon operates a job marketplace called Mechanical Turk to connect researchers with participants, while Silicon Valley-based scaleups Surge AI and Scale AI also offer AI training and outsourced feedback services.

Bradley says Prolifics’ focus on high-quality control and the diversity of its participant pool (the firm has 120,000 people on its books spread across seven countries in Europe, the US and Australia) make it an attractive partner for companies AI engineers who take bias seriously.

Mechanical Turk, meanwhile, doesn’t screen job applicants as standard according to its website.

The deck

Prolific’s (redacted) pitch deck is what they used to get investors to invest. Check it out here:

What is the future of Prolific?

Bradley says that while the company has had positive cash flow since the lockdowns drove up demand for online search, this new round of funding will see the company invest in growth and once again go into loss-making territory.

It’s the first time Prolific has raised money since participating in Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator program in 2019. Bradley adds that the company hasn’t touched YC’s money thanks to its strong revenue position.

We were actually in an above-average position to raise money in the current climate compared to other startups, he says. Being a very capital efficient model was suddenly attractive again, compared to the larger valuation-before-revenue type fundraising that was happening before.

Bradley says the money will be used to focus on growing Prolifics’ participant pool, particularly those with industry experience, such as legal professionals, who can provide more specialized feedback.

He adds that the company will also increase its headcount from 100 to 150.

Given the ever-growing investor appetite for AI-powered startups, the demand for human feedback in AI development doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

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