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Estonian AI startup Fyma’s virtual sensors unlock powerful data to build better living environments

Founded in Estonia’s close-knit community of unicorn whisperers, Fyma is on a mission to help the world build better spaces with AI — without infringing on people’s privacy. On stage at Unicorn59, founder and CEO Karen Burns explained how.

Tired of AI being portrayed as something used only by high-tech companies, Karen Burns, CEO and co-founder of Fyma, set out to make AI more accessible. Born in Estonia from this vision, the world’s first self-setup computer vision AI platform now taps into existing cameras to capture real-time data that can be used to make smarter decisions about urban environments, shopping centres, or any built environment for that matter.

For Fyma, it all started with a project with Tallinn City Council. Like many cities, Tallinn had invested in expensive sensors, which, according to Burns, are not fully serving their purpose as they only count vehicles and not all road users. In fact, Burns says, there are hundreds of millions of cameras around the world that remain completely underutilised, which is where Fyma can really start making a difference using existing hardware to gather better data.

“One of the issues I’ve come across is that we don’t even have enough training data to teach the AI about wheelchairs,“ Burns cites an example. “Our mission is to help build a more equitably built environment that’s more livable, promotes healthier ways of living, and is accessible.”

Privacy-by-design approach to AI

The AI space as a whole experiences its fair share of privacy concerns. At Fyma, there are no grey areas when it comes to privacy and security. In fact, its algorithms have never seen a human face. “We’ve taught the AI to detect humans from the neck down,” Burns notes. “We don’t keep any video footage. It’s deleted immediately and the only output from the system is statistical data.”

This doesn’t limit the AI’s usefulness by any means. Whether a camera is indoors or outdoors, Fyma can detect different objects and movement statistics, empowering businesses to track, monitor, and learn from the metadata. Unlike traditional sensors, Fyma doesn’t just look at cars, buses and trucks. “You can understand how many people, buses, trucks, trams, e-scooters, bicycles, and motorbikes are in a specific space for how long on average, but also maximum-minimum time, the direction of travel — all kinds of things.”

Clients can use their existing hardware or, if they don’t have a camera, Fyma can provide smartphones set into a 3D printed box through their collaboration partner Elisa, Finland’s largest telco. And true to their original vision of accessibility, anyone can set up Fyma. Clients need only to visit the website, sign up, and put in the camera stream’s URL to be able to use Fyma’s virtual sensors.

From Estonia to the globe

Founded in 2019, Fyma has already worked with clients in Dubai, Riga, and London. In addition to a rapid increase in revenue, the team is also quickly expanding. “We’re responding to demand, which includes fundraising,” says Burns. “When previous funds have gone mostly into tech, we’re now seeing the need to invest more into marketing and sales.”

The breeding ground for this success has been Estonia’s famously prolific startup scene. Having lived and worked in the UK, South Africa, and the Middle East, Karen notes that what sets the Estonian startup community apart is its lack of internal rivalry. “There’s a certain level of trust in Estonia and a sense of community, which doesn’t happen elsewhere.”

Touted as one of Estonia’s potential unicorns-to-be, all eyes are on Fyma — and the company is not shying away from the challenge. But it’s not all about the money. Valuation aside, Burns says Fyma’s success is most clearly visible in their net retention rate –– clients onboarding and then asking for more. This has been the case with every single one of Fyma’s clients so far, with a clearly visible mindset shift happening. “Clients are really beginning to see themselves as data-enabled companies,” Burns says.

Of course, this is just the beginning. Bolstered by the support of the Estonian startup community, Fyma is not afraid to think big on their mission to create better spaces with better data: “Our goal is to get onto every camera in the world.”

Want to help create Estonia’s next unicorn? If you believe in building better places with data and want to invest in Fyma – or find another Estonian startup to invest in – get in touch via our e-Consulting service.

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