A group of about 30 engineers sipped coffee and tapped out notes on their laptops, while a charismatic Google employee named Michael "Mig" Gerard whipped through a presentation on how to best apply machine learning, a hot sub-field of A.I. in which software programs get "smarter" at solving problems over time as they receive more data.
He zoomed through slides on technical areas like classification versus regression problems and fielded questions on data labeling and model complexity.
"If you start with a simple model, you'll know if it explodes before you spend much time on it," he quipped.
The audience of fellow engineers laughed along with him, but they weren't who you might expect.
The chairs were filled not with Gerard's fellow Google employees but, instead, more than 100 engineers from about a dozen big privately held companies that Google's Alphabet had invested in.
There were people from ride-sharing company Lyft, which raised $1.7 billion from CapitalG and other investors in March. Also represented were home-sharing giant AirBnb (CapitalG was part of its $1 billion round in March 2017), payments company Stripe (part of a $400 million round in November 2016) and security company CrowdStrike (part of a $100 million round in May 2017) among others.
Gerard's presentation was part of a three-day machine learning boot camp thrown by CapitalG, the late-stage investment arm of Google parent company Alphabet. Gerard was one of more than 20 Google employees volunteering his time to make it all happen.
CapitalG started the program this spring as a way to tap one of Google's biggest assets -- its leadership in the field of A.I., or artificial intelligence, where machine learning fits in -- as it faces stiffer competition from other gigantic investors, like the $100 billion Softbank Vision Fund, that also want a piece of Silicon Valley's growth.
Growth-investment and late-stage deals received the bulk of venture capital dollars last year, and late-stage funding appears to be making up the largest deal volume this year, too.
"More and more funds are trying to figure out what we can offer besides just money," Howard says. "We're always trying different types of programs like this — we're always trying to reinvent our growth offering to portfolio companies."