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Growing AI company quadruples its office space in San Francisco

Unlearn.AI has signed a new four-year lease at 303 Second St. after raising $50 million in funding. The company wasn’t thinking of anywhere else other than the city.

Modern buildings with "333" sign, bare trees, and cars on a sunny day with blue sky.
The bio-med startup will occupy the fourth tower on the north side of the blocklong campus. | Source: Kevin V. Nguyen

After touring the endless supply of vacant Class A office space in San Francisco, in the end, it came down to the dogs for Unlearn.AI. 

The emerging artificial intelligence company, which aims to disrupt the clinical trials process in medicine, just quadrupled its office space by signing a new lease at 303 Second St., which offers skyline views and ample parking near the Financial District. 

But what really convinced Chief Financial Officer Jack McGovern and the rest of the Unlearn leadership team to sign on the dotted line was its new landlord softening on the bring-your-pet-to-work policy. 

“It’s what our employees ultimately wanted,” McGovern said. “From our leadership team down, we’re all big dog people.” 

Alongside their furry friends, Unlearn will occupy the fourth tower on the north side of the blocklong campus. The new lease is a four-year term and sees the company go from a 3,500-square-foot office nearby to much bigger digs, at 17,220 square feet.

McGovern said the space will allow the 70-person company to ramp up hiring. Unlearn, which was founded in 2017, had mostly been in product development mode until it caught the recent wave of AI mania among investors, raising $50 million in Series C funding earlier this year, he said. 

“That round [of funding] really represents the commercialization of our product,” McGovern said. “Now, it’s about turning towards the market.” 

To do so, McGovern said the company expects to hire around 35 more employees this year on the technical and business development side. 

A city street lined with tall buildings, pedestrians crossing, a bus, and traffic lights at dusk.
Unlearn.AI is moving from its previous 3,500-square-foot offices in SoMA to much bigger digs. | Getty Images

Unlearn’s strategy is to create digital copies of clinical trial participants. The digital version would then take part in trials, which in theory, could help shorten the drug-development process and bring new treatments to the market sooner since fewer human participants are required. 

In all, the process of finding a new office took about four months, said John Roskos, a tenant broker for real estate firm JLL, who represented Unlearn alongside Allison Hoffmann, who actually used to work for McGovern in a previous life. 

When the team did a ZIP code analysis of Unlearn’s employees’ home addresses, they found that 303 Second St. was ideal for its proximity to public transportation and major freeways. 

“The attractiveness for me was the campus-like setting,” McGovern said, adding that his team didn’t consider moving Unlearn to the Peninsula or South Bay, where many other biotech and life science companies choose to make their home. 

“We were already in San Francisco, so leaving the city would have cost us months of focus that we could not afford to lose,” McGovern said. “We now have a space that will easily accommodate 3-5 years of growth.” 

In light of record-high office vacancies in the city in the wake of the pandemic, many business and political leaders have increasingly placed their hope in the emerging artificial intelligence industry. 

And while companies like OpenAI are signing the biggest office leases in San Francisco these days, real estate experts say it’s best to temper expectations that the industry will be a silver bullet to all of the city’s commercial real estate woes

Mira Murati, chief technology officer at OpenAI, joined Unlearn’s board of directors last March. 

For his part, McGovern said the city has always had his heart. He started his career in the Financial District at accounting firm KPMG in 1983 and has stayed in the area ever since. 

“The elephant in the room nowadays is, of course, San Francisco’s reputation,” he said. “And even though there are real concerns, they did not have a negative business impact in our decision-making.”