VisionLabs, a Russian startup specializing in facial recognition, data analysis and robotics, announced today that it has secured 350 million rubles ($5.5 million at the current exchange rate) from Sistema Venture Capital. The fund received a 25% stake, valuing the startup at 1.4 billion rubles ($21.5 million).

Founded in 2012, VisionLabs has developed a software package, named Luna, which allows businesses to “verify and identify customers instantly” based on photo or video images, thanks to Luna’s “unique quality and performance pattern recognition technology” (see demo).

Although Luna was intended primarily for banks and retail chains, it may also be applied to ad personalization, user identification in Internet-of-Things projects, medicine, transportation, virtual and augmented reality, according to Sistema Venture Capital President Alexey Katkov.

Another VisionLabs solution, Face_IS, allows retailers to make personalized offers to customers whose faces have been recognized.

VisionLabs claims that its facial recognition technology can make CRM more efficient.

Above: VisionLabs claims that its facial recognition technology can make CRM more efficient.

“VisionLabs is a rare example of a company that has not only developed an innovative, internationally recognized solution, but also delivered competitive commercial products based on its technology,” Katkov stated, seeing in the startup “a huge potential.”

R&D with Facebook and Google

Last year, VisionLabs created an open-source computer vision platform in partnership with Facebook and Google, which contributed modest funding to the project. The platform integrates OpenCV and Torch, two popular libraries for developers studying neural networks and artificial intelligence.

This cooperation has no commercial purpose. The aim is rather to make developers’ life easier by reducing dramatically the time needed by startups to launch projects in the field of computer vision and neural networks, according to VisionLabs General Manager Alexander Khanin.

The Russian startup was also selected earlier this year from among more than 300 companies to become one of 12 participants in ChallengeUp!, an international startup accelerator run by Intel, Cisco and Deutsche Telekom.

VisionLabs is a resident company of Skolkovo, the international tech hub under completion on the outskirts of Moscow. It was supported at the seed stage by the Internet Initiatives Development Fund (IIDF, or FRII in Russian), a giant government-backed startup fund launched in 2013.

Four corporate venture funds in a row

Sistema Venture Capital — of which Vision Labs is the first portfolio company — was launched in April this year by AFK Sistema, a Russian, LSE-listed conglomerate.

Targeting internationally oriented early-stage startups from Russia and neighboring countries, the fund raised no less than 10 billion rubles (approximately $156 million at the current exchange rate). Its shareholders — apart from AFK Sistema — have remained unnamed.

“Now is the right time to invest in Internet companies. Despite the crisis, there are still many strong teams offering products with global potential in Russia and CIS countries,” said Katkov when announcing the fund to the Russian media.

“Meanwhile, following the ruble’s depreciation, the price for development services has fallen,” Russian business daily Kommersant quoted him as saying.

Almost simultaneously, AFK Sistema announced another corporate venture initiative in association with Rusnano, Russia’s national nanotech investment corporation. The joint fund will amount to at least $80 million to support high-tech projects, as reported by RBC Daily.

Just weeks before, AFK Sistema had launched a $50 million Asia fund to support Indian startups operating in the technology and niche consumer retail segments.

The Russian conglomerate was also reported to be in the process of creating a venture fund in partnership with China’s TUS Holdings. This fund’s capital will not exceed $100 million at start, with the Chinese side contributing 70% of this amount.

This post first appeared on East-West Digital News, an international resource about innovation in Eastern Europe.

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