Devon tech firm seeks Â£300k to secure UK futureBy Storm Rannard, Digital Staff Writer
Velmai, a Devon tech firm that is developing a new generation of artificially intelligent (AI) online 'chat bots', is aiming to raise £300,000 via Crowdcube to secure the company's future in the UK and accelerate its global expansion.
Co-founder Dr Tania Peitzker, an Australian-German technologist, told Insider that the business is also set to discuss investment with a New York-based financier with strong links to India, who she said would be a "perfect fit" for the business.
Peitzker formed the company with Devon-born brothers Darren Lee, a developer and IT executive, and Cliff Lee, the owner of Fruitcake Design Associates, a Braunton-based business that has worked with Innocent Drinks and the Metropolitan Police.
The team have been developing emotionally intelligent chat bots for commercial application for the past seven years. The company is aiming to secure investment via crowdfunding in return for a 20 per cent stake.
However, if the fundraising is unsuccessful, velmai will relocate to Lake Constance on the Swiss-German border, where it has received "strong interest".
"What we're offering is the next level of AI technology," said Peitzker. "We're up against scepticism and fatigue.
"All our forerunners have proved that this can run call centres if all you want the technology to do is state fact and answer questions. Velmai actively sells products, which requires emotional intelligence and a rapport with customers - our chat bots aren't fed scripts they're organic."
Although aiming to commercialise the technology, Peitzker is conscious of the sectors velmai's technology could be applied in. The team refused a significant offer from an American-Chinese consortium who wanted to use its chat bots in the Philippine porn industry.
"We're a very ethical team of founders and we refused," Peitzker said.
The business has since opted to enter the food retail market and has also had enquiries from a Swiss financial services group, which has expressed an interest in velmai to taking over the running of a call centre in Eastern Europe.
It started developing its latest prototype, Billy the Butcher, last week (21 October 2014), which will be used by Court Farm in Kent for its online shopping service.
"The sector hasn't really recovered from the financial crisis and Court Farm is only just breaking even this year. The farm employs three full-time and four part-time butchers who are excited about getting AI bots on site, as they can see how they can do work for them, sell products online and secure their jobs.
"While they're doing work and can't take orders over the phone, they know that customers will be dealt with by the chat bots online."
If velmai secures the funding, it will also create a number of high-skilled jobs in the South West, including a chief executive, chief financial officer and sales director. But Peitzker will still go ahead with an international expansion.
"We still want to expand into offices on the German-Swiss border," she told Insider.
"We'd also like to enter Scandinavia, Asia – Singapore would be a good base to launch from – and also the Japanese market, which is really interesting. We have quite a good connection with Fujitsu executives."
Velmai's crowdfunding pitch closes on 6 December 2014.