Each week, Verdict’s editors select a deal that illustrates the themes driving change in our sector.  The deal may not always be the largest in value, or the highest profile. But we select it because of what it tells us about where the leading companies are focusing their efforts, and why.  We pick apart the deal itself, and the industry theme behind it.  This new, thematic deal coverage is driven by our underlying Disruptor data which tracks all major deals, patents, company filings, hiring patterns and social media buzz across our sectors.  

The deal 

Protect AI, a startup building defenses for machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) systems, raised $35m in a Series A funding round. 

The funding, led by Evolution Equity Partners, is over double the amount raised during its seed round – as the company plans to expand its research and development into the defenses of a rapidly growing AI market. 

Why it matters 

The deal comes at a time that AI is seeing a funding boom across almost every industry, which has led to thousands of companies all rushing to integrate and build AI systems into their operations. GlobalData estimates that more than 338,000 social media posts were made between September 2022 and July 2023 about generative AI alone. 

As AI regulation continues to be a hot topic in governments across the world, the risks of the ever-growing technology are continuing to be discussed and discovered. This makes the rise in funding for Protect AI, which is looking to address AI security’s “weak points”, a potentially very important deal.

“If Evolution Equity Partners has led a $35m fundraising round with the likes of Salesforce Ventures and others around a startup building tools to harden the security around AI systems, then it’s highly likely there will be VC rounds from other funders for similar startups,” David Bicknell, principal analyst at GlobalData, told Verdict.

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By GlobalData

“We typically have AI being used as a tool to counter security threats and also the risk of AI being used for offensive cyber purposes. Now, we need security to provide the necessary protection for AI systems,” he added.

The detail 

As well as Evolution Equity Partners, the $35m in Series A funding was joined by Salesforce Ventures – along with Protect AI’s existing investors Acrew Capital, boldstart ventures, Knollwood Capital and Pelion Ventures.

“We founded Protect AI 18 months ago based on our experience being involved in some of the biggest machine learning and AI deployments in the world,” Protect AI co-founder and CEO Ian Swanson said. 

“We saw the value that AI can deliver, but also the risks that are inherent in these systems. Our mission is to help customers build a safer AI-powered world,” Swanson added. 

Richard Seewald, founder and managing partner at Evolution Equity Partners, as well as a board of director for Protect AI, said: “Despite the sheer magnitude of the AI and ML security challenge, none of the industry’s largest cybersecurity vendors currently offer a solution to this problem.”