Hi Auto Raised $4.5 Million in Seed Round

Photo above: Hi Auto Co-founders Roy Baharav (right) and Eyal Shapira

The Tel Aviv based Hi Auto is set to demonstrate innovative audio-visual commercial solution for speech recognition in harsh environments. The company has completed a $4.5 million seed round to fund the development of a novel noise reduction technique for improved speech recognition. The technology will be demonstrated at CES 2020 in Las Vegas.

Read My Lips…

Hi Auto’s technology consists of a microphone positioned in front of the speaker, a camera that tracks the speaker’s lips movements and a deep learning software to eliminate the background noises. “Speech recognition is quickly becoming the method of choice to control devices,” said Roy Baharav, CEO and co-founder of Hi Auto. “But when used in noisy and multiple speaker environments, its reliability goes down dramatically.

“Our audio-visual approach is able to focus the detection on the speaker itself, and remove all the other noises.It will make speech recognition experience in the car and in other noisy environments more satisfying and enable OEMs to introduce complex and sensitive capabilities.”

Hi Auto was founded in February 2019 by the CEO Roy Baharav, the CTO Eyal Shapira and the initial investor Zohar Zisapel, who serves as the chairman of the company. Baharav spent a decade in the U.S., where he served in product management positions at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. Before, he had commanded an elite intelligence technology unit in IDF.

Intel Chose Hi Auto for its “Ignite” Accelerator

The CTO Eyal Shapira was awarded the Israel Defense Prize during his service in a technology unit of IDF. Later, he gave consulting services to companies such as Intel and Broadcom. Zohar Zisapel is one of Israel’s best-known hi-tech entrepreneurs and managers. Zisapel has helped to establish and is the chairman of prominent automotive startups, including Hailo, Argus and Innoviz.

Earlier this month, Hi Auto’s technology was acknowledged by Intel Corporation, who chose the company to join its newly established “Ignite” accelerator in Israel. The latest $4.5 million financing round was led by by the Israeli car importer Delek Motors and Hi Auto’s acting chairman Zohar Zisapel. Other investors were Allied Holdings, Singapore based Goldbell Group, and Plug & Play.

AI Takes Center Stage in Israeli High-tech

Israeli High-Tech Companies Raised $1.55 Billion in 128 Deals during Q1 2019. According to a new research made by IVC-ZAG, the first quarter of 2019 continued the uptrend of VC investments:  Israeli high-tech companies raised 28% more in capital amounts and 15% more in the number of deals, compared to Q1 2018. Investment amounts and valuations of Artificial Intelligence deals continue to grow, with large deals such as Augury ($25m) and Gong.io ($40m).

The ubiquity of AI makes it the relevant technology for big funding rounds in other industry verticals such as Automotive (Innoviz – $132m) and Cyber Security (PerimeterX – $43m). Another finding is the growing importance of Artificial Intelligence technologies: In general, Out of the $1.55 billion raised in Q1 2019, AI companies attracted $599 million raised in 51 deals—almost doubling the figures of Q1 2018. 

Another major finding is that VC funds prefer mature companies over the young and risky ones. C financing rounds soared  $476 million raised in 17 deals, the highest figures since 2014. Deals higher than $20 million were responsible for 64% of the total amount invested in Q1. The lower amount range, smaller than $5m, accounted for less than 7% of the total raised in the quarter.

It means that the investors appetite for early maturity stage companies (Seed + R&D), decreased dramatically since 2016. The investors have tended to allocate more resources to less risky ventures with moderate returns—a trend that has continued in Q1. During 2018, the gap between capital raising amounts in mature and early stage companies was wider than ever and will probably increase this year.

The researchers mentioned that investors involvement in the Israeli start-up ecosystem has grown in the recent years, as reflected in the Average Number of Investors per Deals chart. “In accordance with rising investor interest in more mature companies, the most significant investor type to increase its presence was the Corporate VC type, which participated in 29 deals in Q1 2019.”