Anti-terrorism data startup Fivecast raises $4 million to crack US defence market


The Fivecast team. Source: Supplied.

An anti-terrorism and defence-focused data analytics startup has locked in a $4 million investment from CSIRO’s Main Sequence Ventures and the South Australian Venture Capital Fund.

Founded by Ross Buglak, Brenton Cooper, Duane Rivett and Dave Blockow in 2017, Adelaide-based Fivecast is setting its sights on international expansion after the raise, hoping to lock down business with America’s Department of Homeland Security.

Speaking to StartupSmart, Cooper says some of the $4 million kitty will also be used to bring across 20-odd staff from the Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre, where the company originated.

“We were spun out of the CRC as part of a five-year program that just finished last week. We’ve been working with almost all of Australia’s law enforcement agencies, along with a number of universities, to try and use data analysis to solve some of their bigger challenges,” he says.

“One research area was focused on analysing data to identify terrorism risks and people being radicalised, so we co-developed a solution with the agencies to help with this problem.”

Fivecast’s platform works by using publically available data from social media platforms to provide insights for workers in law enforcement, defence and national intelligence.

The platform then uses AI to filter that information, making it directly helpful for the agency it’s serving, a process Cooper likens to finding the needle in the haystack.

“We look in places like forums, chatrooms, even the dark web, for threats that might be of interest to law enforcement or intelligence. We then apply AI to that data to find the bits that are of interest to them,” he says.

The startup’s software was used by agencies in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, and to protect the 2018 Commonwealth Games from terrorism threats. However, the company’s next goal is significantly bigger  it has the US’s 17,000 law enforcement agencies in its sights.

Much of this funding will go towards putting boots on the ground in the US, and beefing up the company’s business development and sales arms. Cooper admits the market will be a tough one to crack, but says the startup has secured some well-connected advisors to help make it happen.

“We’ve recruited the ex-deputy chief of the Los Angeles police department, who’s very well connected in that space, and we’re also working with Don Hepburn, who’s ex-CIA and can help connect us with federal agencies,” he says.

The startup’s connection to Australian law enforcement agencies has also given it a foot in the door with other countries, such as Canada, New Zealand and the UK thanks to Australia’s ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance.

VC backing opens doors

Cooper says getting Main Sequence and the SA Venture Capital Fund on board for the raise is a “huge endorsement” for Fivecast, and he is hoping their connections to other funds in Australia will help the founders raise additional capital in the future.

The South Australian Venture Capital Fund is managed by asset management business Blue Sky. Partner Elaine Stead says the raise will ultimately help bring jobs to South Australia.

“Fivecast is a perfect example of what can be produced at the intersection of local technology-driven industries like defence and a thriving deep-technology ecosystem – high growth, global businesses that will retain and create skilled jobs and expertise in the state,” she said in a statement.

Along with expansion into the US and UK later next year, Fivecast is also working with law enforcement to build up its analytics tools to help detect early signs of radicalisation. The hope here is to to pre-empt radical action by potential criminals.

“This is happening not just on social media, but in forums and chatrooms, so we’re looking at ways to identify certain ideological messaging and help law enforcement divert these people onto different paths,” he says.

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