We recently outlined our global resilience thesis – in today’s new world order, defined by great power competition and re-globalization, we need to build more dynamic, resilient systems across our most critical industries. We see this as especially true in modern defense and intelligence–where there is an urgent need to create new defense companies, in partnership with the existing ecosystem, and with responsible innovation at their core – in the service of deterring aggression and promoting freer, more democratic societies everywhere. The innovation economy has to step up and focus on these bedrock societal issues.
At General Catalyst, we have had the privilege of being early investors in what we believe are some of the best US defense tech companies including Anduril, Vannevar Labs, and Applied Intuition, but we are also of the view that global resilience necessitates that every geography must develop their own capabilities. This is of critical relevance in Europe today where escalating global conflict has transformed defense spending and re-ignited the focus on reshoring domestic defense capabilities. France, UK and Germany together spend more than €160Bn annually on defense, and alongside other NATO members, have committed to spending 2% of GDP on defense. But increased funding is not enough: speed to market matters. Aging defense systems and real-time lessons from Ukraine that are re-defining modern warfare have brought incredible urgency to modernize existing defense assets – both to maintain parity and deter against aggressor states.
Today, we’re proud to announce that we are leading the €209MM Series B financing for Helsing, Europe’s fastest growing AI defense tech company. We think Helsing is a category-defining software company building the future of European Resilience in defense and artificial intelligence. Helsing’s focus on developing AI to protect our democracies, their ‘radical collaboration’ with governments and existing defense prime contractors, and deep commitment to responsible innovation are a perfect match with our global resilience thesis.
Founded in 2021, Helsing’s software-only approach and trusted partnership with the existing ecosystem have led to rapid market adoption. In June 2023, the German government selected Helsing and its partner SAAB to provide the new electronic warfare capabilities for the upcoming update of the Eurofighter. In August 2023, Helsing and its consortium partners won the contract to provide the AI backbone for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme. This ability to partner and collaborate with governments and hardware manufacturers is in our view a unique competitive advantage and one that positions Helsing to more rapidly bring critical capabilities to market and transform the defense industry, not disrupt. SAAB will also be investing in this round, deepening their existing partnership.
The opportunity here is significant as we believe that defense spending on software will grow from single digit percentages to double digits over the next decade. The speed by which modern software-enabled defense tech companies can innovate and bring capabilities to market is a game changer for governments. Helsing was selected for their first program of record (a contract that has been approved and budgeted by the government) just two years and two months from their founding, while Anduril won their first program of record just three years from their founding.
From our very first meeting with Helsing, we saw that their approach, engineering rigor and commitment to responsible innovation were unique. Moreover, the story of how Torsten, Niklas and Gundbert came together and gave up their own individual careers to join forces and build Helsing is special. Their diverse yet complementary backgrounds are another factor in their success and the culture of Helsing, bringing together user experience, product development velocity, technology company scaling, AI/ML and depth of understanding of the defense industry. Together, they represent the kind of diversity of thought that we think is essential for any kind of complex problem solving and company-building. Another pivotal moment early on was when Daniel Ek and Prima Materia invested €100MM in 2021 and had the clarity to encourage Helsing to hire the best talent possible and build solutions for critical needs as opposed to short-term revenue. This enabled Helsing to hire an incredible team, drive talent density and build for the long-run and for impact, and has fueled their speed to program of record. Of note, Helsing has been active in Ukraine since 2022, providing capabilities and technology for frontline operations, with personnel deployed on an ongoing basis.
Embracing Responsible AI
As an AI enabled defense tech company, Helsing thinks critically about their role and responsibility in ensuring AI is leveraged as a force of good. Helsing believes AI will transform defense in a fundamental manner and will become the critical component for deterrence and protecting democracy. Helsing’s mission to protect democracies places special responsibility on the ethical consideration of AI. The company takes an intentional approach to transparency, explainability and the effectiveness of the human in the loop. To ensure technical excellence and diversity of thought, Helsing recruits from a wide range of backgrounds and encourages critical input and thinking from its teams. Their approach to technological sovereignty for each of their nation state partners is transparent and intentional. We think Helsing’s approach provides a blueprint for how every company should be thinking about embracing responsible AI as a core tenet of their business model. We’ve written more on how we see AI evolving here.
Our partnership with Jeannette and La Famiglia
We believe Helsing will be one of the most important companies to emerge from an incredibly vibrant European tech ecosystem, and are proud to be teaming up with outstanding European partners, including Jeannette zu Fürstenberg from La Famiglia. Jeannette and her deep connectivity to the European defense and industrial ecosystem are a key strategic asset to Helsing as the business continues to scale. We and Jeanette are deeply aligned around the idea of global resilience and what that means for the European innovation ecosystem. We are eager to advance the opportunities for Europe’s most promising companies.