Investment

Language “Zoom” platform gets family offices very interested

Language specialist Interactio has raised $30 million from a string of wealthy investors including Samsung’s Young Sohn, Jaan Tallinn, co-owner of Estonia’s Ambient Sound family office, and Eight Roads Ventures led by the Johnson family. 

The Series A raise is the largest ever seen in Vilnius, Lithuania, where Interactio is based. Interactio will use the money to build on a twelve-fold increase in its online language translation business in the pandemic.

Interactio’s list of clients include the United Nations, European Commission, European Parliament, BMW, JP Morgan and Microsoft.

It runs video conferencing facilities that mesh with streaming services like Zoom and Webex to produce real-time translations. 

Rather than using AI, Interactio retains teams of interpreters who translate conference proceedings for overseas delegates and put over their questions.

Last year, Interactio says it hosted 18,000 meetings for 390,000 listeners in 70 countries. Each delegate chooses the language they require. 

Interactio’s use of interpreters runs counter to developments in real-time smartphone translation by Google which also claims to maintain speech patterns. A company called Elsa is setting out to correct intonation. In-ear translation devices have been produced by Waymo Labs and Lingmo International. 

Neural Machine Translation is the term given to ways of using big data to produce accurate translations, verbally or via smartphone images

Interactio’s chief executive Henrikas Urbonas sees a future for automated translation for his corporate clients. But conferences deliver a complex range of content and intonations. Interactio says its interpreters offer the most accurate account of events and requires operational skill. 

Language specialist Oxford House agrees: “AI translation tools are great for self-study and for use as classroom aids, but a lot of the time the translations they produce need to be checked by a real person.”

New investor Jaan Tallinn is co-founder of Ambient Sound Investments of Estonia with his former colleagues at Skype Ahti Heinla and Priit Kasesalu. 

Ambient Sound manages $100 million and sets out to invest like a family office. It is a backer of venture capital and real estate, including Estonian forests, quarries and hotel accommodation. It also invests in a portfolio of value stocks, to balance its growth bias.

Ambient’s founders also invest their own resources in their own ventures. Tallinn is a partner of software company Bluemoon. He has also been an investor in AI specialists such as DeepMind now owned by Google and UK-based Faculty. He graduated in 1996, after producing a thesis that considered interstellar travel through warps in space-time. 

Ambient’s Ahti Heinla is involved in Starship Technologies, whose robotic vehicles cut congestion by taking goods from delivery points and delivering them to town centres. Starship is backed by Jaan Tallinn and Janus Friis who co-founded Skype with Niklas Zennström and sold it to eBay for $3 billion in 2005, bought it back for less, supported by Silver Lake, and sold it to Microsoft for $8.5 billion in 2011.

The Johnson family is best known as owner of Fidelity and its Eight Roads VC business believes Interactio is revolutionising language interpretation in the Zoom era. Its client base is also pretty impressive.

The other US co-lead, Storm Ventures, was co-founded by managing director Tae Hea Nahm who has invested in a stream of companies offering Software-as-a-Service. 

Tae Hea Nahm of South Korea prides himself on spotting markets before they get hot. His friend, Young Sohn, has invested in Interactio in a personal capacity. After an early career at Intel and Silver Lake, where Sohn remains involved, he became corporate president and head of strategy at Samsung Electronics.

Sohn led Samsung’s $8 billion purchase of Harman International, a self-driving car business, in 2016.  He continues to chair Harman. He stepped down as Samsung president and head of research this January to develop his portfolio career.

Baltic VC specialists Practica Capital and Change Ventures have also participated in Interactio’s fundraising. London-based investor Notion Capital whose top executives include Stephen Chandler and Jos White. They were founders of MessageLabs, a European SaaS pioneer. 

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