Modern video surveillance systems are not able to analyze the behavior of people on video and to recognize a potential intruder. Consequently, they are unable to prevent thefts and terrorist attacks. The AI-based security system Heptasense is able to analyze a person’s behavior and thus anticipate his possible illegal actions and, in general, dangerous incidents. Who has developed this reliable and progressive security system? To whom it may be useful? Ricardo Santos, CEO of Heptasense answered these and other questions.
“My name is Ricardo Santos, I am the co-founder and CEO of Heptasense. I invested my money in some other startups and I have been involved with a non-profit organization related with bullying in schools. I am working at Heptasense over 2 years, because it combines two of my passions: security and artificial intelligence. I want to live in a World that is safer, and that is the mark I want to leave for the next generations”.
What is Heptasense as a startup and what does the word “heptasense” mean?
Heptasense is an artificial intelligence software that connects to surveillance cameras to detect criminal and operational activities by analysing the human behavior. When a threat is detected, an alert is sent to the security teams to make a decision. “Heptasense” comes from the fusion of the words Heptagon + Senses. When people ask us the meaning, we play saying women have the 6th sense, and Heptasense has the 7th sense. The real meaning is rooted in our startup culture that represents our values and vision to the World, as a security company.
When and how did you get the idea to create such a project? Why did you choose this trend for a startup?
It all started with the realization that video surveillance today is not working as it was supposed to. For example, if you are walking into a place that has security cameras, one of two things may happen: there is no one monitoring, or there is one person looking at dozens of cameras simultaneously. A study by Accenture revealed that after 20 minutes, security teams lose 95% of the incidents because of fatigue. To summarize: those cameras are not protecting you in real-time! Then, if you go to China, they have millions of cameras spread across the country, but with the main reason to track and follow people wherever they are, to implement a Social Credit System. Heptasense decide to have the mission to turn any surveillance camera into an autonomous system for threat detection, without identifying people in the process.
Do you have any worthy competitors, and how do you deal with them?
At this stage, we never met a potential customer in which we had to explain why our solution is better than other. This means, our competitors do not have a strong presence on the market, although this is an exponential growing market. The main reason is because the market in intelligence surveillance is more focus in facial recognition and people tracking, something that we are against to. Heptasense focus on real-time behavior analysis, withiout identification or storage of personal information.
What are your competitive advantages?
Heptasense is a software that can learn any human behavior, to adapt to customer needs. We do that without relying on customer data. For example, if a retail customer wants to detect shoplifting in a store, Heptasense can learn those new behaviors associated with theft in less than 1 week with our proprietary method.
Is this the first your startup or did you have another ones previously? What are these projects and on what stages they are?
I had a startup before during college, with 4 friends back then. We developed a device that could read bioelectrical signals from the arm to control a hand prosthetic. We moved to EUA for 6 months, won international awards, met great mentors and companies in the process. I learned a lot from that experience, because I probably made 99% of all mistakes a startup shouldn’t make.
If you do not mind my asking, what was the investment amount for project creation and initial promotion? Was it an investor’s money or your personal savings? If it was an investor’s help, could you tell us how you found him.
Heptasense bootstrap since the first day, growing with customers’ contracts. We started Heptasense by winning a startup competition. We were awarded with €5000, in which we used to open the company and developed the MVP. In 6 months, we get BMW as a customer.
What experts were indispensable at the stage of creating and launching a project?
The first thing we did when the launched the company was to enter to the incubator StartUp Lisboa. They help us since the beginning with mentors and office space. Today we are still on a rented office space from them at the center of Lisbon.
What were the challenges during the launch and how did you cope with them?
The biggest challenge, that today still exists, is hiring the best people. In Portugal there is a lot of talent, but high competition. But besides hiring highly talent people, the values are obviously extremely important, because since we are a small team (7 people today), the first collaborators will influence a lot the next steps for Heptasense.
What markets are you entering and what ones are in your plans? Why?
Heptasense is working with companies in three main areas of intelligence surveillance: security (theft, area breaches), safety (workers in factories) and operations (airports and roads). Our current customers are from Europe, and we are exploring North America with our partners.
How do you promote Heptasense?
Besides the usual methods such as social networks and tech fairs, we have an incredible network of corporate partners (Vodafone, Everis, Cisco), accelerator partners (Plug and Play, Starburst, Munich Network) and referral partners that introduce Heptasense to potential customers.
What is the most effective approach for your product promotion?
Definitely the partnerships, because they already carry the trust of their own customers.
How to start promoting a young technology project in your opinion?
By partnering with other companies that want to provide innovative solutions to their own customers. That gets incredible visibility, for free, in which all win.
What of your knowledge and skills were useful while launching the project?
The importance of managing relationships and expectations. And obviously a good quality product that solves a real problem.
Would you recommend to startuppers to subscribe for the pages of any Internet communities able to provide them with some helpful information? Which ones?
For sure. There are so many places to find opportunities for startups. One international that we used a lot in the beginning was F6S, which is basically where accelerators and corporates create applications forms looking for startups.
If there were no Heptasense, what another project would you develop?
That’s difficult. I want to solve problems that somehow affects people that do not have resources to find a way out. Things related with security, poverty or environment. If I could choose a new project, I probably would work on artificial food production (like cow meat produced from cells in a lab).
How do you see further development of your project?
Heptasense has having an incredible acceptance. We thought that our market was the already existing 700 million cameras operational worldwide. But the reality is that some of our customers do not even have cameras in some locations, and they are installing them just to use Heptasense (e.g. factories). Our vision is this: we want to make all cameras autonomous and trustable again, providing real value to our customers, without extracting any kind of personal information of people. We want when people enter into a location and see Heptasense symbol on a camera, they would know that the place is safe and no personal information is being extracted. Today Heptasense is in retail stores, factories, highways and soon in airports, across Europe.
What is the most valuable business advice you’ve ever received?
Nothing is for free and everything is negotiable. You can get to anyone and get what you want if you understand what they want in return.