Protect AI, a Seattle startup that sells cybersecurity tech tailored to code that powers artificial intelligence and machine learning programs, emerged from stealth mode and announced $13.5 million in seed funding.
The company’s first product is NB Defense, which works to address vulnerabilities in Jupyter Notebooks, an open-sourced web application for creating and sharing computational documents that is used in machine learning-based environments.
“The problem that we’re solving is that code is not code as it relates to machine learning,” CEO and co-founder Ian Swanson told GeekWire. “Machine learning code and tools are different. And therefore they are actually not covered by our traditional cybersecurity companies.”
As companies are deploying AI and machine learning across all aspects of their business, they need a tool that can scour through code to find anything that’s potentially malicious or compromising, Swanson said.
In the traditional cybersecurity space, there are large players such as Snyk, which helps developers locate potential security risks in their code. Swanson said that Protect AI will be among the first startups that focuses specifically on machine learning and AI code.
A challenge with being a first-mover in the space, he added, will be convincing information security execs that their existing solutions don’t work beyond traditional code.
Protect AI will work in Google Cloud, Oracle Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Serivces.
This is Swanson’s third startup. His first company was Sometrics, a virtual currency platform and in-game payments provider. It was acquired by American Express in 2011. After that, he founded DataScience.com, a cloud workspace platform that was acquired by Oracle in 2018. Swanson also held AI leadership roles at AWS and Oracle.
Swanson co-founded Protect AI with Badar Ahmed, a former engineering leader at Oracle and DataScience, and Daryan Dehghanpisheh, a former leader at AWS.
Protect AI has 15 employees and expects to hire two more people by the end of the year.
The round was co-led by Acrew Capital and Boldstart Ventures. Acrew founding partner Mark Kraynak and Boldstart founding partner Ed Sim will join the Protect AI board. Other investors include Knollwood Capital, Pelion Ventures, Avisio Ventures, Shlomo Kramer, Nir Polak, and Dimitri Sirota.