Foundation of the month: Validaitor

Sandra Schöttelndreier

What does your company stand for?

Validaitor develops tools and services for comprehensive testing and validation of artificial intelligence (AI) systems. AI is a transformative technology on par with electricity. But we need better controls and protections than what we have now. Validaitor stands for protecting people’s safety and fundamental rights from the risks of AI systems. Of course, we are a company. However, our work is fundamental to the well-being of society and the environment as AI systems become more prevalent everywhere.

Where and how did you get the bright idea to start up?

I have been involved in AI security for almost 5 years. The initial impulse for me came from the literature on “Adversarial Examples”. This clearly showed that AI models can be easily manipulated by attackers. Once you realize the problems and vulnerabilities associated with AI, it’s hard not to think about it. Since then, I’ve been digging deeper and deeper into the topic, which eventually culminated in the founding of Validaitor.

Where do you see the hurdles in the start-up process? Where did you get support?

Founding a start-up is not an easy task. There are many building blocks for a successful start-up and bringing them together requires a lot of energy and resources. I would especially like to highlight the support I received from KIT. KIT is a great research university and a forge for many technology startups. The KIT team that supports startup ideas and founders is really top-notch and has helped me a lot in many ways: from finding funding to spreading our message.

I think the most crucial moment in the founding process was our decision to apply for government funding. With the support of Prof. Dr. Michael Beigl, Dr. Till Riedel, Dr. Rolf Blattner and the help of Alexander Graf, we decided to go this route. Finally, we received our funding from the BMBF, which paved the way for us to build our team.

What was one of your biggest challenges during the start-up phase?

The biggest challenge so far, has been convincing people of the importance of AI security. When I first told some prominent figures from industry and academia about the idea, many of them reacted hesitantly and questioned the real impact of these concerns. This was also reflected in the fundraising process. Some VC funds I approached a few years ago were pretty sure that the market would not be established fast enough. But here we are. The so-called AI Act – a European Union regulation on AI – has sort of created the market itself. Everybody is talking about AI security now, partly because of the upcoming AI regulations and partly because of the hype triggered by ChatGPT. Now we’re constantly being approached by VCs who want to talk to us.

What qualities do you think a founder should have?

I think the most important quality for founders is perseverance. Building a start-up is a process that takes some time to get going, and even more to get established. The motivation of the founders is crucial in this process to be able to walk on this path. The greater the perseverance the founders have, the better they master the never-ending challenges. It is also very important that the team stays motivated and excited about the future of the company.

Question for our startup community: do you have any very practical tips for other young business founders?

If they have ideas and the passion to build something from scratch, they should be willing to take risks. Without risks, there is no success. Second, they should realize that creating a startup is not just about financial success. Startups may fail in the end. But the experience and knowledge founders gain in the process are very valuable and can contribute to the future careers of young founders.

Question for our startup community: what would you perhaps do/approach differently from today’s perspective?

As someone with a technical background, I wish I had embraced a comprehensive product vision earlier on when developing software products. I realize now that it took me a while to develop that mindset. Even though we are developing a high-tech product, I wish I had learned much earlier to look from the customer’s perspective and measure value solely from that perspective.

What are your plans for the future? What are your next big milestones?

There is a big regulatory wave coming for AI, and we want to be as prepared as possible to ride it out. We are working closely with our partners and customers to build the most comprehensive quality management system for AI. I believe the biggest challenge in the coming years is to meet the industry demand with a reliable and comprehensive platform. This is a big challenge especially in terms of scalability. Imagine that all companies around the world that want to sell their AI-based products and services within the European Union need to have a legally required validation of their AI systems. That’s a huge challenge!

Thanks so much for answering the questions!

Here is the related podcast episode to our Foundation of the Month Validaitor on Spotify.

Enjoy listening!


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