7 startups join forces with Israeli spooks in bid to boost AI skills

Entrepreneurs get cash and mentoring in accelerator program run by Shin Bet and TAU Ventures, as security agency gets access to ‘the most innovative ideas and solutions’

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative image of a spy. (cyano66; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of a spy. (cyano66; iStock by Getty Images)

Seven Israeli startups have been selected by the venture capital fund of Tel Aviv University and the Shin Bet domestic security agency to take part in a unique accelerator program that will foster early stage artificial intelligence projects in a bid to help the secretive agency tap into new skills.

The first cycle of the joint accelerator program will last about four months. It is aimed at entrepreneurs who have proved the technological feasibility of their products. It will focus on early-stage AI projects with an emphasis on natural language processing technologies, robotics and data science, a joint statement said.

The projects — chosen by a committee of professionals from the Shin Bet and TAU Ventures, a fund that invests in early-stage companies set up by the Tel Aviv University — received a grant of $ 50,000 from the Shin Bet.

The startups participating in the program will benefit from the close mentoring of content and technology experts from the Shin Bet, and from experts from the university and the industry. The connection to the Shin Bet will also provide the entrepreneurs with ways to test the capabilities of their technologies and cooperation opportunities, the Shin Bet and TAU Ventures said in a joint statement. The startups will be hosted at the premises of TAU Ventures in Tel Aviv.

Nimrod Cohen, the Managing Partner of TAU Ventures, first row, third from left, and the startups selected for the Shin Bet accelerator program (Courtesy)

At an event earlier this week in which the startups were announced, Nadav Argaman, the head of the Shin Bet, said that an organization such as his that deals with life-and-death matters “must be at the forefront of technology. This means reshaping the organization’s technological approach and connecting us to the most innovative ideas and solutions that will best meet our needs.”

If you had asked someone from the Shin Bet three years ago whether such a plan could exist for the organization, he said, “the answer you would hear is probably not. The very establishment of the program attests to a new spirit in the Shin Bet.”

Head of Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense committee meeting at the Knesset on March 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The seven startups that were selected for the program are:

CannyAI, whose technology enables the editing, modification and synthesis of videos for the film and television industry using artificial intelligence.

AutoPlay AI, a developer of bots that test software products autonomously.

Extend, which is developing technology that expands reality by connecting human capabilities to that of drones, allowing better control of events happening in the sky.

Clone, which develops virtual reality technologies to enable users to virtually bring a person from afar into their own environment.

Talamoos, which is developing the next generation of visual platforms based on big data and machine learning prediction platforms.

Cyabra, a startup that says it can protect brands and organizations from disinformation and fictitious identities.

Legal Automation, which is developing a system that can automatically analyze documents and apply logic to them and make decisions accordingly.

“The seven startups chosen to take part in the program have been chosen with great care and are in my opinion the spearhead of deep technology in Israel,” Nimrod Cohen, the managing partner of TAU Ventures, said in the statement. “We will do everything possible to help these startups get to where they aspire to.”

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