DataProphet raises US$6 million funding

South African startup DataProphet, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help manufacturers autonomise their operations, is to focus on expansion in the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) following its US$6 million Series A funding round.

Disrupt Africa reported last month that DataProphet, which was formed in 2014 when two friends at the University of Cape Town, Frans Cronje and Daniel Schwartzkopff, decided to use their knowledge of AI to start their own business, had raised a US$6 million Series A funding round to help it expand internationally.

Speaking on the latest episode of Disrupt Podcast, Cronje said the startup had started on the journey about 12 months ago as it felt securing more capital was important for the company in order to realise its international growth ambitions.

“It’s been quite a long road, which has been interrupted by COVID-19. We were on the frontlines a little bit as some of the capital just froze as funds focused on looking after their internal companies while they worked out what the impact of COVID-19 would be,” he said.

The round was nonetheless completed last month, featuring the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC) and Norican Group, a leading foundry engineering and equipment company, as strategic investors Cronje said would be “valuable when it comes to the context of our market.” There was also further investment from Knife Capital, which first invested in DataProphet in 2018 and supported the company through this latest round.

DataProphet, whose AI service DataProphet PRESCRIBE proactively prescribes changes to a manufacturing plant’s control plans to continuously optimise production without the expert human analysis typically required, is targeting the EU and the US as its first new geographies.

“We already have a couple of customers in that space, but what is quite important when it comes to our work is having this close relationship, this local commercial and technical support in those geographies. So this expansion allows us to build out offices in the EU and the US to support partners in that space,” Cronje told Disrupt Podcast.

“When you look at the manufacturing space it is kind of an inward-focused, conservative market. If they are working with you they want to have these personal relationships and it is something that we necessarily need to support. Coming out of South Africa is something that is difficult for those markets to relate to, and subsequently this is why it is quite important to build these commercial relationships.”

The startup has already worked with various German automotive companies to good effect, and is now looking to expand further in the wake of its investment. Cronje said it will nonetheless remain a South African business, retaining its main engineering hub in the country.

“The team and the talent that we have here in South Africa is very competitive internationally, and I think we can continue to prove that,” he said.

“AI is just a tool. To truly deliver practical value, industry-specific expert knowledge needs to be embedded into its system design. Over the past 24 months, through our commercial relationship and the combined expertise of Norican’s and DataProphet’s teams, we have realised that value for customers in the metal casting industry.”

“Norican participating in this round further improves our alignment and I look forward to welcoming Anders (Anders Wilhjelm, CEO of the Norican Group) onto DataProphet’s board to help guide us strategically towards a practical and meaningful holistic suite of AI solutions for industrial customers and partners.”