Meet The Team

Our exclusive relationship with Heriot-Watt provides continued access to the best new thinking in conversational AI, computational linguistics, and deep learning through both the faculty and the students that work in the Interaction Lab.

AllManagementDevelopersResearchersSales & MarketingBoard
Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder

Nehat Krasniqi

Chief AI Officer & Co-Founder

Prof. Oliver Lemon

Chief Technology Officer & Co-Founder

Ioannis Papaioannou

Head of NLP & Co-Founder

Prof. Verena Rieser

Head of Machine Learning

Dr. Ioannis Konstas

Head of Linguistics

Dr. Arash Eshghi

Head of Business Development

John Taylor

Head of Digital

Paul Thomas

Content Manager

Helena Blackstone

NLP Software Engineer

Dr. Yanchao Yu

NLP Software Engineer

Alessandro Suglia

Research Engineer

Igor Shalyminov

Product Strategy Advisor

Grant Webster

Communication Advisor

Dave Jackson

Non-Executive Chairman

Lance Blackstone

Board Member & Commercial Advisor

Efi Hershkovitz

Board Member

Stephen Grabiner

Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder

Nehat Krasniqi


Nehat is an experienced business leader with a track record of delivering growth. He has operated at an executive level for 11 years across the tech and outsourcing sectors. Nehat founded several outsourcing IT support businesses that include Brighten Group and Connect Support. Prior to running his own businesses, Nehat held senior positions at Grant Thornton and Avison Young.

Chief AI Officer & Co-Founder

Prof. Oliver Lemon


Oliver leads our research in conversational and ‘multimodal’ AI interaction. He has over 20 years of experience in AI, previously working as a research fellow at both Stanford and Edinburgh universities. He has led several national and international research projects funded by EPSRC and the European Union. Oliver is also the Director of the Interaction Lab, and a Professor of computer science at Heriot-Watt University.

Chief Technology Officer & Co-Founder

Ioannis Papaioannou


Ioannis holds a post-graduate degree in conversational AI and finishing his PhD, specialising in open-domain, coherent and engaging multi-turn dialogue policies, as well as Human-Robot Interaction. He has a wealth of experience across the tech industry, having designed and successfully deployed several large-scale projects, as well as being part of several Conversational AI research projects. Ioannis was one of the main developers of Alana during the Amazon Alexa Prize Competition 2017-2018 and led the Alexa Prize Heriot-Watt team in 2017.

Head of NLP & Co-Founder

Prof. Verena Rieser


Verena leads our research in Conversational AI and Natural Language Generation. She brings over 15 years of experience in developing and applying these technologies in multiple contexts (including Google, Nuance, Amazon) and other disciplines (education, health, entertainment, and geo-spatial systems. She holds a PhD from Saarland University (Germany) and worked as a Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. Verena is also a Professor of Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University.

Head of Machine Learning

Dr. Ioannis Konstas


Ioannis specialises in Natural Language Processing, with an emphasis on data-driven deep learning methods for Understanding and Generating Natural Language – both for document-level text and open-domain dialogue. He was previously a research associate at the universities of Washington and Edinburgh. Ioannis is also an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University.

Head of Linguistics

Dr. Arash Eshghi


Arash specialises in how people communicate in everyday conversation, i.e. how they build meaning together, correct themselves & each other, seek clarification. He applies formal, computational & empirical methods from Computational Linguistics, Machine Learning & Cognitive Science to better understand and model these processes. Arash is also an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University.

Head of Business Development

John Taylor


John is a highly experienced commercial business developer with extensive experience of living and working overseas, in particular the GCC. With over 22 years blue chip experience he has an excellent track record of developing strategy, implementing change and delivering results in complex and challenging markets.

Head of Digital

Paul Thomas


Paul Thomas has over 16 years experience as a digital communications leader and change strategist, particularly in the financial and professional services industries. He spent 10 years leading Digital Communications strategy for Grant Thornton UK LLP, working on several major Digital Transformation projects. He is passionate about technology, workplace communication culture, social media and how modern organisations stay connected digitally, whilst creating value for themselves, their clients and stakeholders.

Content Manager

Helena Blackstone

Helena Blackstone is a journalist, copy writer and communications professional with over six years’ experience and stints in London, New York and Berlin. She has worked across cultural, health and scientific outputs and been published in national and international publications such as the Guardian, the Evening Standard and the New York Times.

NLP Software Engineer

Dr. Yanchao Yu


Yanchao specialises in Conversational AI, with a focus on multimodal interaction and human-robot interaction using data-driven methods. He has extensive development experience across several large-scale projects, coding in different programming languages including Java, Python, Matlab, SQL and .Net. Before joining Alana, Yanchao worked as a dialogue modelling scientist at a voice AI company, where he was involved in deploying several commercial conversational projects. He also worked as part of the Alexa prize team in 2017.

NLP Software Engineer

Alessandro Suglia


Alessandro’s main focus is in developing Machine Learning models able to learn conceptual representations with few training examples by exploiting multiple modalities such as vision, language and proprioceptive information. Alessandro was one of the main developers of Alana during the Alexa Prize Challenge 2018. Alessandro is also a PhD Student at Edinburgh Centre for Robotics teaching machines how to learn language through natural language interaction in multi-modal environments.

Research Engineer

Igor Shalyminov


Igor is finishing his PhD at Heriot-Watt University where he worked on data-efficient methods for dialogue systems. He did research internships at Intel and Microsoft Research, his work from the latter ranked 1st in the DSTC8 Fast Domain Adaptation task. Igor was also part of the Amazon Alexa Prize team Alana. Prior to his PhD, Igor worked at Yandex building the conversational platform Yandex. Dialogues and the Russian National Corpus’s search engine.

Product Strategy Advisor

Grant Webster


Grant has worked in the financial services sector for more than 15 years, building a strong reputation in spearheading the vision, strategy and roadmap for the delivery of global product trading programmes that drive innovation and best in class customer experience. Grant previously worked for TP ICAP & Fenics (BGC) leading and mentoring high-performance product and technology teams in the development and deployment of digital platforms.

Communication Advisor

Dave Jackson


A leader in the marketing and advertising industry, Dave has shaped the strategic offering for several Advertising and PR agencies, including the digital arm of DDB UK while also leading key accounts for Adam & Eve DDB. Alongside developing iconic advertising, Dave has built the commercial and brand strategies for businesses across the globe ranging from blue-chips to start-ups.

Non-Executive Chairman

Lance Blackstone


Lance started his career in investment banking where he was involved in international finance projects and (at the time) the largest ever IPO, simultaneously listed on the London and Luxembourg Stock Exchanges. He then founded Blackstone Franks LLP, a corporate finance firm, which was merged into Carter Backer Winter in 2013. His areas of practice were primarily corporate finance and business problem-solving. He has held many board positions on both private and public companies.

Board Member & Commercial Advisor

Efi Hershkovitz


Efi is a successful entrepreneur in the UK healthcare industry with 25 years’ experience in healthcare development & operations. He founded Forest Healthcare Limited, which grew from a single site into a specialised healthcare group offering 14 facilities, 850 beds & 1,000 staff. He then founded Danshell Healthcare Group in 2011, a healthcare company focussing on mental health and autism. Through a combination of acquisitions and turnarounds as well as organic growth, he built it into the second largest healthcare group in the UK before selling it in 2018 to UHS/Cygnet Healthcare.

Board Member

Stephen Grabiner


Stephen is a private investor and a philanthropist. Between 1999 and 2010 he led the Global Media Team and the London Practice of Apax Partners. Prior to Apax, Stephen was Chief Executive of ONDigital Plc a pay TV start-up, Executive Director of United Business Media Plc and Managing Director of the Telegraph Plc. Stephen is a National Independent Director of Times Newspapers Ltd.

London Office

The Stanley Building
7 Pancras Square King’s Cross, London N1C 4AG

New York Office

48 West 38th Street
10th Floor,
New York 10018 

Edinburgh Office

GRID
Heriot-Watt University,
Edinburgh EH14 4AS

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