SUPAHANDS, the Malaysia-based provider of data sets for machine learning, announced on June 3 that it has raised an undisclosed amount in a Series A funding round led by social venture capital firm Patamar Capital; as well as Cradle Seed Ventures (the VC arm of Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd, Malaysia’s early-stage financier under the Ministry of Finance).
Notably, Patamar Capital’s investment comes from its Investing in Women Fund, a fund for women-led businesses launched in 2017 in collaboration with Australia’s Investing in Women initiative.
Patamar makes venture capital investments in high-growth companies that are solving South and Southeast Asia’s pervasive problems at scale.
This comes as apt, considering that Supahands has made a positive social impact by providing a supplemental income stream to thousands in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Phillipines.
In the last couple of years, the company recorded a payout of millions of ringgit to its crowdsourced workers (called “SupaAgents”), of which 64% are female.
According to Supahands co-founder and chief operating officer Susian Yeap, the 64% female ratio happened naturally – the company did not have a specific hiring quota for this.
“I think the typical Asian culture dictates that women are expected to stay home and care for the family once they start having children and the men work the usual 9 to 5 jobs,” she tells Digital News Asia.
“While we respect tradition, we also give these women a chance to support their family financially in their own time. Supahands has somehow managed to defy what most people would assume of a company operating in the tech space by having a majority female-led company and a workforce that’s majority female too.”
There are some criteria to hiring SupaAgents. “We try our best to keep the recruitment process for SupaAgents fair. At the very least they should have their own computer/laptop and a stable internet connection as all of our projects are executed virtually,” Yeap notes.
The recruits will also have to first go through an online assessment. Once they’re onboard, they will need to complete certain task-specific assessments as well.
“Quality is extremely vital to the nature of the work that we do so the different assessments provide that first layer of quality assurance that we need,” she elaborates.
Following the funding announcement, Supahands also announced a female-majority board with the inclusion of two new members – Patamar Capital partner Shuyin Tang, and senior advisor Nor Azah Razali, who was former partner and managing director at The Boston Consulting Group.
Supahands’ leadership team is also majority female, a sight in the tech industry as uncommon as penguins in the tropics.
“Supahands has also always valued the importance of building a diverse team and board, with the belief that diversity leads to better decision-making,” says Yeap.
In expansion mode
The new capital injection, Supahands says, will be used for the company’s expansion in the Asia Pacific region.
“The goal is to have SupaAgents in every SEA country. Diversity is extremely important in AI and machine learning and we believe that SEA can provide companies with just that. Each country in SEA has its own cultural and legislative differences, so we cannot use the same approach for everyone,” Yeap says.
“There is no one size fits all when it comes to getting a community of humans on board to aim for the same goal. So we’re going to great lengths to ensure that we fully understand the set of values that make up each country’s culture in order to provide them with a SupaAgent experience that they will truly find rewarding.”
The new capital will also be used to cement the company’s foothold in artificial intelligence (AI) enablement in the APAC region.
“Supahands is an integral part of the AI industry’s growth spurt as the solution to data preparation for machine learning, especially in this region that has seen heavy investment in AI. This is an exciting time for us as we grow ten times internally and externally as well,” says Supahands co-founder and chief executive officer Mark Koh.
On the fast track
This makes the company a speedboat riding a massive proverbial wave. According to a recent report by PwC, AI contributed US$2 trillion to global GDP last year. By 2030, that number could grow to as much as US$15.7 trillion.
AI is equally growing in the APAC region – a Tractica report says that the AI market in the APAC region is expected to grow by US$136 billion by 2025, which makes it a pretty big slice of a big pie.
The challenge with AI is, perhaps ironically, with human labour. Machine learning models need huge volumes of data in order to learn, and the data preparation process is time consuming and human-labour intensive, often taking up a large chunk of time and effort of an AI engineer or data scientist.
This is where Supahands comes in.
“The AI industry is really exploding right now. While its growth is still relatively slow in this region, we’re looking forward to the influence that larger APAC countries like China, Japan and South Korea have on AI’s growth in SEA,” explains Yeap.
“Our key focus now is on companies that develop computer vision software for a ton of uses from agritech to autonomous vehicles. By the time SEA hits that AI implementation, we’ll be more than ready to take them to the next stage, helping companies scale faster and more efficiently.”
For the past year and a half, Supahands has been developing and testing their own image annotation and data management platform that cater to clients with projects that have grown in complexity. Yeap says that the company believes in building their own tools rather than rely on the readily-available ones.
“It definitely takes more time but we believe that this is the best way to give AI companies the quality data that they need,” she concludes.
Read the article on Digital News Asia.