Swedish Startup Space

After Selling To Ebay – AI Veteran Martin Rugfelt Starts Out On His Own

Written by on August 30, 2016
Editors Note: This post is part of a series called Featured posts, presented by Breakit.

When Expertmaker was acquired by Ebay, Martin Rugfelt was among those to profit. Now, he and three Expertmaker colleagues have teamed up to found Sentian.ai, a new artificial intelligence startup.

In early May, Ebay announced they would purchase Expertmaker, a small AI startup based in Malmö. Expertmaker’s financial records for the past few years reveal that high revenue was not a motivation for the Ebay buyout. The AI company also operated at a loss for several years.

Like in many instances of tech giants buying small niche-players, expertise and proprietary technology is what Ebay was likely after. Ebay made it clear that they would absorb all of Expertmaker’s employees, including CEO Lars Hård.

But one of Expertmaker’s key players has chosen to break away. CMO Martin Rugfelt, who was also a shareholder in the company, will instead start his own AI company.

“The Ebay deal was great for both sides, but I would have been transferred to the US, so I chose to jump ship,” Mr. Rugfelt.

Rugfelt has recently incorporated Sentiantechnologies AB with the Swedish tax authority, but the company will do business as Sentian.ai.

“I saw the opportunity to do something great, and I convinced three engineers from Expertmaker to go along with me that this was a good idea. Now we are going to build a new business,” he said.

Expertmaker was mainly focused on commerce, optimizing pricing, retail assortment and loyalty programs. Sentian.ai, however, will go in a different direction.

The company will combine data from a variety of sensors in factories to predict when a specific part of a machine may break or fail. This idea is similar to the  model of Sweden’s Odin Technologies, which has raised venture capital from EQT Ventures, among others.

“We intend to be a fairly large company focused on the manufacturing industry and telecom niche. We are looking for more data scientists to join us, “said Rugfeldt.

What is the competition like?

“It is limited. There are not that many AI experts, so there is more demand than there are suppliers.”

Do you have any customers?

“I hope to close the first deal later this week. We are aiming for the enterprise segment.”

Mr. Rugfelt does not reveal how much money he got when the Expertmaker was acquired by Ebay. However, it is clear that he has used at least some of that money to float Sentian.ai, which he started without any external capital.

It is worth noting that Mr. Rugfelt is something of a veteran of the Swedish artificial intelligence industry. He also founded Lytics, where he continues to serve on the board of directors.

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