Daniel Ek puts €100M into defence startup Helsing.ai, to support democracies

Just over a year ago, Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek pledged €1 billion ($1.2 billion) of his personal fortune toward funding deep tech “moonshot projects” spread across the next 10 years. In particular, he was most interested in boosting European tech and European entrepreneurs as he said they were typically underfunded compared to U.S. counterparts.

Today it looks like he’s also out to boost European (and other) liberal democratic societies with the news that Prima Materia, his investment company, will put €100 million into Helsing, a European defence AI company, which has raised €102.5 million in total as part of its Series A financing. The new funding will be used to grow the team of over 70 (so far), and accelerate product and delivery. It also means Helsing is claiming a valuation north of €400 million.

Following a seed round with European investors earlier this year, Helsing plans to use it’s AI platform to boost defence and national security among the aforementioned democracies by making them more efficient, using live data.

Ek will join the company’s board, alongside Helsing’s co-founders Torsten Reil, Gundbert Scherf and Niklas Köhler.

Helsing says its real-time software platform “processes data from multiple sensors directly on vehicles and systems, to provide an integrated view of the operational environment with the aim of faster and more accurate decision-making.” So, unlike some systems which seek to make longer-term organizational changes, this appears to be a highly “live scenario” platform. This would be crucial in scenarios like cyberattacks, as well as “kinetic” scenarios.

Helsing says this will involve turning unstructured sensor data into “information advantage” for democratic governments, providing the clearest picture possible in any operating environment by using “AI on the edge”. This, quite obviously, would involve gathering data from multiple sensors directly on vehicles and systems.

Helsing also says it will “focus on serving countries which meet the highest democratic standards.”

Founded in 2021 and with offices in London, Munich and Berlin, Helsing plans to serve several countries, starting with teams in the U.K., France and Germany. It recently appointed former senior U.K. MoD official Nick Elliott as CEO of Helsing U.K., and Sir Chris Deverell (formerly head of the U.K.’s Joint Forces Command) as a senior advisor. A French entity will be a third home market in early 2022. Robert Fink joined as CTO from Palantir, where he was chief architect, earlier this year.

In a statement, Torsten Reil, co-founder and CEO, said: “We founded Helsing with the conviction that liberal democratic values are worth defending, and that artificial intelligence will be an essential capability to keep us safe. Unlike authoritarian regimes, democratically elected governments have a special responsibility to their citizens: the use of technology needs to be transparent and guided by ethical standards set by us all. We believe that the required control and accountability needs to be designed into the technology from the outset.”

Gundbert Scherf, co-founder and COO/president, added: “Working like a software and tech company, we designed Helsing to overcome another key challenge all democratic governments face: Government works in linear processes that are inherently difficult to square with the exponential speed of technology. At Helsing we don’t wait for the specific requirement to come out of the process, but instead, invest our own resources into our platform to solve entire categories of problems.”

A word about the team: Reil previously built NaturalMotion, which exited to Zynga for $527 million. Scherf (president/ COO) was previously partner at McKinsey & Company and architect of the Bundeswehr’s Cyber and Information Domain Command and the digital directorate-general at the German Ministry of Defence. Koehler (CPO) is a theoretical physicist and has published AI contributions in Nature, Nature Communications, Nature Machine Intelligence. Fink (CTO) was a software engineer at Palantir Technologies. Elliott CBE MBE (CEO Helsing U.K.) was recently director-general of the U.K. Vaccine Taskforce.

Daniel Ek commented: “We founded Prima Materia to advance ambitious science and technology to solve the world’s biggest challenges and help society progress towards a better future… Europe has a tremendous opportunity to lead in building dynamic AI systems in an ethical, transparent, and responsible manner. Torsten, Gundbert, Niklas, and the entire Helsing team take this responsibility seriously and are driven by the same values and ambition that led us to start Prima Materia.”