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Looking back at our first year as Slimmer AI

One year ago, on December 17th 2019, we launched our new brand - Slimmer AI. This new brand marked our transition to an applied-AI software products company, building on our decade of experience developing innovative solutions.

While we set out to tackle some big challenges in 2020, this year of course was way more complex that we anticipated, like for example, hiring new employees and closing sales, all without meeting people. This makes our collective successes of the year that much more amazing and it is with great pride in our team, and gratitude to all Slimmer AI folks, that we look back at a great year.

Happy first birthday to Slimmer AI!

Nothing moves quite as fast as a start-up. I learned that lesson the hard way, as I received my first mission to rebrand the company before the year-end holiday party. That left just two and a half months for us to develop our new identity, by carefully weaving together our amazing AI history in Groningen with our new international team.

Science & Marekting

Heather Deveraux

Heather Deveraux

Head of Science and Marketing

A diverse group of us - both “old” and new - worked tirelessly to define our principles, design our visuals, and even give us our new name. The word "slimmer" in Dutch means "smarter", but we think of it in other ways too such as how to do things more efficiently and effectively, and help experts focus on what matters most.

Our pragmatic approach to AI makes us quite unique and we work diligently to develop AI solutions which are responsible and ethical. These beliefs, and our huge appreciation of our fantastic team, led us to our tagline of People Powered.

This message has resonated. From podcasts to interviews, from newspaper articles to book chapters, Slimmer AI has gotten quite a bit of attention this past year. Many people believe that AI can make an impact, but there is clearly a need for more voices focusing on the human impact of its application.

Did I mention that on top of my commercial and marketing scale-up role, I also lead a team of nearly 20 engineers? While I'm very proud of the branding and marketing efforts, I couldn’t be prouder of the achievements of the Science Team and the incredible products they’ve delivered this year. More than the tech, I'm most proud of how they supported one another through such a challenging year. They make me feel grateful and inspired every day.

Wearing so many hats at Slimmer AI has meant a few sleepless nights for me this year, but there’s nothing quite as thrilling as the tech start-up life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Setting up an applied-AI venture studio

Investment for AI start-ups in Europe is growing at 300% year over year, but the success rate has been less impressive. After years of seeing many failures in digital transformation and product development, I feel quite strongly that the venture studio model is the ideal way to bring new products and businesses to market.

Labs

Giuseppe Lecerenza

Giuseppe Lecerenza

Managing Director of Labs

Since I joined this past summer to lead Slimmer AI Labs as Managing Director, I've been working to take this thinking even further. With 10 years of successful AI projects and products under our belt and the proven success of our Lab-to-impact approach with the launch of Sentinels, we’ve created a fantastic base for successful AI venture development at scale. Most critical to our success will always be our people. I have spent significant time scouting talented entrepreneurs in order to add their fresh perspective with Slimmer AI's already rich talent pool.

It hasn’t always been easy, however. I was aware that journey to build great things can often include significant time in the “dark swamp of despair”, although I never expected to go through it several times in the last months. On the other hand, if it was easy to build AI ventures everyone would do it. I've learned the hard way that it's too easy to kill ideas when they are young and too difficult to pull the plug when they are mature but not worth further developing. It’s been an incredibly intense six months. What a journey.

Finally, we can see that we’re on the right track. Over the past year, the Labs team has already created three new proof of concepts, with several more in early research stages. We're building a pipeline of validated AI product ideas which will have real-world impact and aim to prove themselves to be profitable business ventures. And the news of the Slimmer AI Labs launch at TNW City in the centre of Amsterdam further supports our ambitions, as Amsterdam is one of the leading tech hubs of Europe and at the core of several disruptions.

2021 will be an exciting year for Labs, as our prototypes mature into products, and we further establish Slimmer AI as a leading EU venture studio. We grow fast and learn to navigate these uncharted waters. I expect a few more tumultuous journeys ahead, with each adventure as exciting as the first. Bring it on, 2021!

Shattering the status-quo of regtech

The need for an AI-powered AML (anti-money laundering) software is clear to everyone supporting the fintech industry. Current solutions have not been effective, to put it mildly, often providing only "checkbox" compliance. Fortunately, Dutch PSP Mollie felt the same way and joined us as our first partner and launching customer. Sentinels has taken the learnings from a joint MVP and applied them at scale, building a solution which addresses compliance challenges and adhering to the strictest of EU regulations.

Sentinels

Joost van Houten

Joost van Houten

Managing Director & Founder of Sentinels

The start of the 2020 brought us 4mln in seed funding, and we managed to sign up five more major partners including OPP (Online Payment Platform), Ginger, PayPro, Digiteal and Youcal. Just this past week, Sentinels won a competitive RFP against two incumbents, securing our first bank partner.

The speed of our product developments has also been impressive. We've built and tested our business rules editor, addressing the problem of low-performing rules. This development is complemented by machine learning models for a "‘hybrid"’ approach to detect suspicious transactions.

Of course, we’ve had our share of growing pains. From selling an innovative solution into a traditionally conservative industry (in a pandemic, no less), to tripling the size of the team in three months, nearly every day presents us with both opportunities and learnings. I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by such a great team, as we blaze this new trail together.

2021 will be another huge year of growth and expansion for Sentinels, going beyond establishing product/market fit to scaling up. Expect to see new products, new partnerships, and new investments. I'm extremely proud of what we've achieved and excited for what's to come.

AI is in our DNA

As one of the “veterans” of Slimmer AI, and as an AI Engineer, I am impressed with how far we've come this past year. Over the past seven years, I’ve watched us grow out from a project of the University of Groningen into the sophisticated AI products company we are today. It is that blend of old and new that has led to our successful transformation year.

Innovation

Jean-Paul van Oosten

Jean-Paul van Oosten

Head of Innovation

I'm currently focussed on building new AI products within the Labs team, but collaboration across the various teams remains crucial. I look to leverage the collective AI and tech knowledge of our teams, ranging from anomaly detection to NLP, and the ability to design solutions for complex problems.

2020 brought more cool innovative AI work than ever before. A major shift was the new release of our scientific research disambiguation solution by our Science team using language models such as BERT. Sentinels introduced several technological innovations, such as anomaly detection models. The approach included a combination of density-based methods and seasonality correction, greatly reduce the number of false positives and is explainable for the experts that use it in their daily work

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Honourable mentions include speeding up our models with Lightning, debating distance metrics (should we dethrone cosine similarity?!) and of course playing around with GPT-3. We also stay engaged in the AI and tech community, participating in both the EMNLP and ACL conferences (where some of our colleagues presented), coaching a bunch of great interns, and joining the NL AI Coalitie.

Slimmer AI greatest strength is our team of nearly 60 engineers, which includes several PhDs. That powerhouse of engineering strength differentiates us from other tech start-ups, as very few companies can compete with our impressive tech talent. Supporting our most valuable assets - our engineering team - is my goal in 2021 and beyond.

Building a company during a global pandemic

In January when COVID-19 was already showing large-scale spread in China, Slimmer AI was preparing its exponential growth, launching our new office in Amsterdam, approaching new markets for Sentinels, and recruiting and onboarding new hires. At the beginning of Corona, our team had grown by 30%.

People and Operations

Nedzmija Sipovac

Nedzmija Sipovac

Head of People and Operations

As I love a good challenge, I decided to join Slimmer AI during the first lockdown. I experienced first-hand just how hard it is to get to know people and build trusted relationships online. This "insider knowledge" made it easier for me to understand the challenges our new employees face, and how we should adapt our onboarding experience.

The first full lockdown in March was particularly difficult. As a tech company, everyone was able to work remotely but our engineers are quite social, often sharing cake and coffee breaks, and drawing their complex ideas on whiteboards. Our challenge was to close the offices yet keep the unique Slimmer AI positive spirit going.

Looking at how highly engaged our people currently are, I must say we did it impressively well. Tech companies have shown the highest level of acclimation to the new situation. Employees in digital-first companies proved themselves to be unsurprisingly tech-savvy and working remotely didn't seem to be an issue, besides some children and cats running around in the background.

As a People Powered company, we put our people first. We have several colleagues with young children or have families in high-risk groups. Together, we ensure that we help each other adjust to the news situation by being flexible and keeping constant communication. The team has been incredibly resilient.

Our socials are an important reason why we have a positive spirit and are engaged. We have a lot of good laughs together, wearing masks during Halloween, having a drink, making the new logo for our Science team, making fun together and sometimes of each other. One serious side effect of our online socials is that many of us are now addicted to Scribble and Among Us.

Now in our second partial lockdown of the year, we know exactly how to handle this challenging situation. This does not mean it is easy. It means that we continue to listen to our people and invest in them – growing bigger and stronger and making Slimmer AI a great place to work.

Looking ahead to 2021

2021 promises to be an even more exciting year. There will be challenges and there will be surprises, but the opportunity ahead of us to accelerate our impact on the world through applied-AI products is bigger than ever. We will enter 2021 with incredibly strong momentum, thanks to our amazing team that Slimmer AI is.

One year ago, we launched our new People Powered brand, reflecting our belief in the people behind our AI. I want to sincerely thank every one of the team for their hard work while being super flexible in a crazy year and for keeping up the fun – the remote socials, the sense of humour, the quirkiness, the curiosity to learn new things!

I look forward to what 2021 will bring and wish our team, our customers, our partners and our investors a great holiday break!

JC Heyneke

JC Heyneke

CEO