$1 million from SMRK: Why the fund invested in AI-startup Osavul

$1 million from SMRK: Why the fund invested in AI-startup Osavul

And what's the relevance to the Centre for Counteracting Disinformation at the National Security and Defense Council

$1 million from SMRK: Why the fund invested in AI-startup Osavul
The start-up founders Dmytro Pleshakov and Vlad Tislenko
Dmytro Pleshakov's Facebook page

Osavul is an infant Ukrainian AI startup, created in March 2022. However, it recently attracted $1 million from SMRK venture fund in a seed round. Osavul is focused on information security and countering disinformation. The team targets the national security niche.

Mind delved into what intrigued SMRK about the startup, where the raised funds will go, which markets the company wants to open up, where the team is located and whether the fund requires their relocation abroad.

On the essence of Osavul and what attracted the fund

The startup develops solutions in the field of information security, countering disinformation and analysis of the information environment. The company was founded by Dmytro Pleshakov and Dmytro Bilash. "Osavul is being built by cool and experienced entrepreneurs who sold their previous AI startup to a NASDAQ-listed company," comments SMRK partner Vlad Tislenko.

The fund says they invested in Osavul because its development addresses the acute problem of spreading malicious information: it detects disinformation and coordinated information attacks. The technology is built on AI algorithms. The startup uses artificial intelligence to analyse both content and behavioural signals, as well as to detect malicious actions. The solution analyses activity time models, account coordination, and promoted narratives.

"Osavul emerged in response to the russian invasion of Ukraine," says startup co-founder Dmytro Pleshakov. With the onset of full-scale war, the team started co-working as a volunteer tech team with the government and non-governmental organisations. Having worked with teams, the founders found a gap in the field of analysis and counteraction of disinformation and gradually began to build software that addresses these issues. The proposed solutions became the basis for creating the first version of Osavul. Volunteer activity has grown into a full-fledged startup.

On users and possible monetisation

The startup's business model is Enterprise SaaS. Currently, Osavul software is implemented and used by the Centre for Counteracting Disinformation at the NSDC of Ukraine and other Ukrainian agencies from the security and defence sector. The founders do not disclose them. For Ukrainian state bodies working on Ukraine's defence, the team works pro bono.

Are there other sources of income in the company? The team did not comment.

"We like the chosen development strategy of the startup. Especially the fact that the product is being made for use by government agencies and large businesses," notes SMRK partner Vlad Tislenko. The startup has no customers abroad. However, SMRK expects that the high potential for scaling the project will offset these risks.

On competitors

These are companies that apply AI and LMM models to fight disinformation: Primer.ai, Logically, Blackbird. "The disinformation counteraction market is growing rapidly. One of the reasons is the full-scale invasion," explains Vlad Tislenko.

Osavul states that they are more focused on the national security niche. "While some of our competitors are focused on business, we focus on national security through our experience of participating in the war. This dictates higher requirements for productivity, security, and some analytical functions," they talk about the competitive advantage in the company.

Another unique feature – in addition to working with public sources (media, Twitter, YouTube), Osavul can find and analyse narratives in closed sources (Telegram and Discord). The startup has technology for detecting coordinated media attacks. When an analyst investigates a narrative, the solution provides information whether it is developing organically or is a coordinated and inauthentic push from a group of accounts or media.

On investment

Personal funds were invested in the project in the initial phase, but the amount of investment in the company is not disclosed. Later, the startup attracted $1 million from SMRK. Now the fund owns up to 20% of the startup's shares. "SMRK and our company share common values, so we work together," say the founders of Osavul. Vlad Tislenko notes that the fund does not interfere in operational activities. "However, we are an active lead investor, sharing our experience and network with entrepreneurs," he adds.

The funds raised will go towards marketing and the development of the technology platform, including the integration of Large Language Models technology, which will help improve the analysis of the information environment. The team's plans include expansion into international markets and collaboration with overseas companies and government organisations. Osavul is targeting European countries and the US market. "Our team is ready to collaborate with democratic countries, government and civil organisations, and businesses that share our values and are focused on combating disinformation," says Osavul.

On their team

Part of the team is based in Ukraine, but the fund does not require relocation. "On the contrary, we are in favour of the development of Ukrainian offices," says Vlad Tislenko. The startup has a formed senior team and technical specialists who work with the main products. There are 12 specialists in the tech team. The plans include the expansion of the sales team, as well as the hiring of specialists to work with international partners and clients.

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