‘Dream’ investor: Sam Altman backs Israeli AI startup

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‘Dream’ investor: Sam Altman backs Israeli AI startup

Chief executive of OpenAI is among contributors to seed funding of $7m for Tel-Aviv based Apex, a leading provider of digital security

Sam Altman, OpenAI
Sam Altman, OpenAI

In what is likely to be one of the startup success stories of the past 12 months, Israeli-based Apex has received financial backing from OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman. 

Apex, which has built the world’s leading AI security platform, recently announced it had raised $7 million in a seed funding round led by Sequoia Capital and Index Ventures, with participation from Altman, one of the most esteemed figures of the AI boom. Not bad for a company that was founded less than a year ago.

Tel Aviv-based Apex was launched in 2023 by Matan Derman (CEO) and Tomer Avni (CPO), who met at the elite intelligence unit 8200, where they served as a Lieutenant Colonel and Captain. Their aim: to empower enterprises to harness the power of AI securely and successfully.

Since the launch of Altman’s ChatGPT in late 2022, there has been an exponential rise in the adoption of Generative AI capabilities across all industries.

Apex co-founders Matan Derman and Tomer Avni                                               Photo Credit: Ben Hakim

Avni tells Jewish News: “Effectively, GenAI is becoming the core of every company, as 90 per cent of Fortune 500 companies already have employees using ChatGPT for work. However, this rapid uptake of AI applications brings forth a range of security challenges for businesses, including potential data leaks, the risk of malicious data injection into organisational systems, concerns related to privacy and copyright infringements, as well as the looming threat of sophisticated AI-driven cyberattacks. While embracing AI practices swiftly is essential for organisations aiming to stay ahead in a competitive landscape, it also requires them to navigate effectively through evolving security threats.”

Apex provides organisations with comprehensive visibility of their AI activity, allowing them to define how AI is used across the organisation and remediate AI risks. Their platform can detect violations to a company’s or industry’s security, compliance, and legal standards, detect and respond to AI attacks, so that companies can securely leverage cutting-edge AI technologies.

Only just coming out of stealth mode (where business takes place in secret), Apex has customers from a range of industries – from financial services to retail and energy – including Forture500 companies, public companies, and large investment firms. And they are not alone in seeing the potential. Back to that “dream” investment from AI titan Altman.

Derman explains: “Sometimes, one needs to dream and then pursue those dreams in real life. As we anticipated this was going to be a crowded space, we wanted to have the best and brightest minds supporting our journey, and having Sam with us was going to be a game changer. We found the right people in our network with close ties to Sam, who in turn listened to the story of Apex and agreed to join us on this fascinating journey.”

It was Sequoia Capital which connected Derman and Avni to Altman – Sequoia had previously invested in OpenAI. “After closing the investment in Apex, we brainstormed with the firm regarding additional investors who could join our journey and add value to it, and Altman’s name came up, as as a veteran investor and a very prominent figure if not the most in the world of AI.”

“A few months later, we met in person on one of our trips to the US,” recalls Avni. “Altman was happy to hear about Apex’s amazing progress and to advise us and share his extensive experience.”

How involved will he be in the company?

“Altman has put it straight out that he devotes the vast majority of his resources and time to building OpenAI and will be able to help occasionally. The thing with people of his calibre is that every short while of their time is so thought-provoking and helpful, it’s totally worth it.” Altman, who has also invested in Helion, which announced a nuclear power purchase deal with Microsoft in 2023, and Retro Biosciences, which aims to add 10 years to the average human lifespan ,  won’t be involved in the company’s operations or day-to-day work.

Yet his backing is a huge nod to Apex, its technology and the Gen AI landscape in general. Since launching at the end of 2022, ChatGPT reached 100 million users faster than any other consumer service. Unsurprisingly, the cyber security risks and attacks also showed up at a rapid rate. Gartner stated that 30 per cent of enterprises experienced an AI-related breach a year since AI exploded onto the scene.

Derman wrote on the Apex blog: “As we navigate through this rapid evolution, keeping up with the outstanding pace of new technologies and outpacing the adversaries who exploit this new segment of our cyber world, one thing becomes clear: AI security is a moving target, requiring constant adjustment and innovation.”

Quite. For AI is changing every business in the world. “It creates tremendous opportunities for unlocking huge amounts of knowledge for every employee, automating tasks, and rapidly producing outputs required for their job, like code, reports, and financial analysis.”

But what about those who are worried about the implications?  “To those that are worried,” notes Avni, “it is up to all of us to shape the GenAI revolution to make the world a better place. We all are responsible for finding the delicate balance between fostering innovation and anchoring the foundation to protect against potential risks. This is exactly what we are building Apex for.”


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