Irish start-up Protex AI has raised $18 million (€18.1 million) to help support the launch of its safety technology in Europe and the US.
The company plans to grow its business operations team, particularly in the US, although it hasn’t put an exact figure on how many it wants to hire. The company currently employs 22 people, with the bulk of its staff based in Ireland.
The Series A funding round was led by Notion Capital, with Playfair Capital, Elkstone and Firstminute Capital also participating. There were also strategic investments by Flexport and SCOR Ventures.
Founded by Dan Hobbs and Ciarán O’Mara, Protex AI uses artificial intelligence and computer vision technology to identify potentially unsafe behaviour in settings such as warehouses, manufacturing facilities and ports, helping to proactively protect workers and create safer workplaces. The system works with existing CCTV systems, continuously auditing the safety procedures in place while also preserving the privacy of the companies and workers using it.
“We use [the AI] to identify the behaviours that lead to accidents, so that you can stop the behaviours rather than having to wait for accidents to happen,” he explained. “And it’s privacy-preserving. We don’t pick up any information on the individual person, it’s all about managing by the collective.”
There is a large potential market for Protex AI to address. The cost of workplace accidents in the US alone is estimated at $171 billion, with companies facing losses in productivity, insurance and medical expenses as a result. There are a total of 2.3 million workplace accidents every year according to figures from the International Labour Organisation, with more than 8,000 fatal workplace accidents in 2020 in the US and EU.
A participant in the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator, Protex AI has already signed up a number of blue-chip companies as customers, including retailer Marks & Spencer, which increased compliance significantly after it implemented the system. The tech start-up has also seen significant growth in the size of its staff, growing from two people to 22 in 12 months.
“I think a big part of it is our customers want to get ahead of the curve,” Mr Hobbs said. “Companies we work with are very much forward thinking in how they approach safety and how they approach technology.”
Elkstone was one of the early backers of Protex AI’s founders. “Globally, the smart deployment of real-time computer vision-enabled, preventive safety technology is in the very early innings,” said Elkstone founder Alan Merriman. “Protex AI, aided by the top-quality shareholder base they have attracted, has the clear potential to be a global category leader.”
The company also plans to keep developing its technology. “Our system is always evolving,” Mr Hobbs said. “The next step is getting deeper on how they manage safety, making their jobs easier and safer. What we’re doing is essentially making a system that integrates with their current workflows. We actually integrate with pretty much everything that they use on a day-to-day basis.”