Brazilian unicorn iFood announces acqui-hire to boost AI talent base

The investment in Hekima is intended to help the company tackle the local scarcity of tech skills

Brazilian food delivery startup iFood announced the acqui-hire of Hekima, an artificial intelligence (AI), data science and big data company to boost the skills needed for its data-driven business strategy.

As a result of the deal will see more than 100 professionals at Hekima, which is based in the city of Belo Horizonte, in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, joining iFood. Under acqui-hire agreements, companies are bought for the primary purpose of obtaining access to their talent.

According to iFood's chief executive, Fabricio Bloisi, the arrival of Hekima's AI experts is part of a wider technology-led business plan: "[The deal] reinforces our vision for future growth, where innovative technologies will be the engine of iFood's operations," he said.

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With more than 26.6 million orders per month and more than 131,000 restaurants based in 912 cities registered on its platform, the company leads the food delivery business in Brazil.

After raising $500million in funding in November 2018, in what was at one of Latin America's largest funding rounds at the time, iFood has sharpened its focus on data-driven technologies with a new R&D center.

The startup has embraced AI as a key element of its growth plans - it has been working on the creation and refinement of its own digital maps and routing to improve delivery predictions. It also wants to use drones and robots in its food delivery operations in 2020.

By the end of 2020, iFood also wants its entire workforce of over 2,300 people to be fully trained on data-driven tools.

According to the company's VP of Growth and AI, Bruno Henriques, the cutting-edge tech initiatives and the acqui-hire agreement are also intended to avoid the brain drain that Brazil has been experiencing:

"There is a shortage of qualified professionals in Brazil because many AI-focused graduates end up accepting career proposals for global companies outside of the country," Henriques said.

"iFood's AI initiatives seek to retain talent by creating attractive opportunities in Brazil for AI experts to work on world-class innovations in product development," he added.