Daniel Ek’s € 1 billion European technology investment group takes initial stake in Helsing


A year after launching a billion euro investment firm to boost European tech, Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek made his first bet by taking a stake in Helsing, a tech start-up from defense that produces live maps of the battlefields.

The start-up, which was founded this year and plans to have offices in Germany, Great Britain and France, received 100 million euros from Prima Materia from Ek, for a valuation of a little more than 400 million euros. Ek said he founded Prima Materia in September 2020 to “identify the most difficult problems in society”.

The software developed by Helsing will use artificial intelligence to integrate infrared, video, sonar and radio frequency data gleaned from sensors on military vehicles to create a real-time image of battlefields.

Possible applications include helping troops to detect swarming drones, enemy forces, or camouflaged vehicles with more precision than the human eye.

“When it comes to building globally relevant technology companies, it’s no secret that Europe has underperformed regions like the US and China,” said Ek .

But he added that Helsing was a “perfect example” of how Europe had a “tremendous opportunity” to lead in new areas, such as building dynamic AI systems “in an ethical, transparent and accountable manner. “.

Torsten Reil, CEO of Helsing, met Ek after selling a UK games start-up called NaturalMotion to Zynga for just over half a billion dollars.

Reil said Europe lags “behind the world” in AI warfare capabilities, and Helsing’s goal is to deliver cutting-edge defense and security AI capabilities. national to liberal democracies which have “common values” around the rule of law and public responsibility.

“It’s not even about specific countries,” he said. “We need AI to serve our democracies. . . We are generally behind schedule. . . And that must change. “

Helsing, whose name derives from the German word hellsicht, or clairvoyance, plans to focus initially on direct sales to the British, French and German military.

Gundbert Scherf, Director of Operations at Helsing, previously worked in the digital department of the German Ministry of Defense. He pointed out that while the start-up would initially focus on sourcing individual countries, it would be possible in the future to link systems together to provide a “common operational picture and technology platform” to be used in operations. allies.

Other tech start-ups are working on similar systems: for example, the British company Improbable is developing a “live geospatial dashboard” for use by the armed forces.

Last month, Airbus announced it was working with Helsing, saying it would jointly develop AI capabilities for “manned and unmanned systems platforms and systems in the Airbus product portfolio” supported by the German Ministry of Defense.

Western allies are increasingly concerned that their conventional military superiority will be eclipsed as China adopts new combat technologies.

Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive of Google who chairs the United States National Security Commission on AI, warned this year that while America was “not prepared” for the digital war migration, Beijing was already training AI algorithms “in military games designed around real-world scenarios”.

Last month, Nicolas Chaillan, who was the Pentagon’s chief software officer, told the Financial Times that he resigned his post after concluding that the United States had already lost to China in the competition over the ‘IA.

Spurred on by China’s advances, the NATO military alliance launched a € 1 billion accelerator program and investment fund this summer that will focus on deeptech start-ups in the fields of AI, autonomy and quantum technologies. NATO’s initiative, which will be similar in structure to the CIA’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel, is expected to be operational in 2023.

Scherf said the Helsing team had “watched very carefully” the recent release of NATO’s AI strategy and would seek to “engage with all key players” in the accelerator program.

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