A not so risky business

For the past three years, Erez Saf has been developing CRiskCo, a fintech/insuretech startup using artificial intelligence to provide a real-time credit analysis and management platform. Before launching CRiskCo Erez Saf was Chief Information Officer for the first peer-to-peer lending start-up in Israel (eloan.co.il) and development manager at SAP Labs in Israel and China. Erez now works extensively with the startup ecosystem in Brisbane after moving to Queensland through Hot DesQ in 2017.

Erez Saf

When he was a consultant, one of Erez’s customers failed to pay their invoice.

“They defaulted on me, they delayed payment for one year,” says Erez.

“When I looked into it, for the past 10 years they had a history of doing this to their vendors.

“There was no tool available to me, or anyone, to understand the risk associated with this particular business customer.

“So I started to look into how I could solve this problem,” he says.

Erez, with his extensive background in computer science and fintech, teamed up with co-founder Amit Eisenthal to found CRiskCo — a credit risk analysis and management platform. CRiskCo uses artificial intelligence to sort the large volumes of data held in accounting systems to help organisations assess credit risk and develop their market strategies.

“We’ve collected a lot of information and run financial mathematical models to give us a profile of the behavior of a business to assess whether it is similar to other businesses who have paid on time in the past or if it is similar to companies who have defaulted in the past.

“The best thing about it is that we don’t make a decision, the computer makes the decision and it learns every night if it is making a good decision and how to better predict which companies will default.

This is where artificial intelligence comes in as the computer learns from its own mistakes and will continue to refine its own decision-making.”

Erez moved to Queensland in 2017 with the support of Advance Queensland’s Hot DesQ program.

“I was in Silicon Valley at the Plug and Play accelerator program, and I was just sitting there working and someone told me there was a lunch with the Queensland Government delegation.

“I went and heard all about Queensland, which I must admit I hadn’t heard of before that day and they explained the Hot DesQ program,” says Erez.

“So we applied and a couple of months later we got accepted. At the same time one of our customers from New York decided they wanted to do a pilot in Sydney; so the combination of Hot DesQ and a client in Sydney made it happen,” he says.

Erez and CRiskCo have finished the Hot DesQ program, which ran over six months, and are now working to expand their presence in Australia.

They’ve also recently received funding from the Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas fund which Erez says will help them to continue to build their team here and employ local data scientists.

“It is a tremendous help at the right time,” says Erez of the $100,000 Ignite Ideas funding.

“We are at a specific point where we have commercial validity and customers that we can support and earn initial revenue from, but the money we are bringing in on our own is not currently enough to build our product and sustain a lab here in Brisbane.

“The Ignite Ideas funding will help us to build a centre of data scientists, and help us employ and engage people early on to build a more reliable and scalable product.
“With this funding we can create more jobs and build more revenue here in Queensland,” he says.

Erez is determined to make a positive impact on other Queensland startups and the wider business community.

While he was taking part in Hot DesQ, Erez ran events in Cairns, the Sunshine Coast and Mackay. He could be found at events from Startup Weekends to corporate innovation workshops, and remains actively engaged in the startup ecosystem in Queensland, helping local startups to think globally.

“It takes time to grow into a different way of thinking and a different way of doing business — to shift the focus from a local to a global aspect. Getting startups to think globally about opportunity — to understand that Australia is not their only market. Australia is just their starting point, their market is global, that takes time,” he says.

Erez explains that international entrepreneurs offer the Queensland business community a great deal of value. They bring with them a different state-of-mind that can help develop the local ecosystem and facilitate connections around the world.

Erez is excited about the startups who landed in Queensland in October 2017 as part of the most recent round of the Hot DesQ program.

“Those guys look amazing, the quality of the startups is very high, people coming in from the leading accelerators around the world, from Y Combinator, 500 Startups and Startup Chile. They are people who have come here to make a difference,” he says.

Erez speaks openly about the challenges they’ve faced along the way, including the reluctance of markets to adopt change.

“Of course you always have the challenge of facing people that don’t believe there is ever going to be any change in the world,” he says.

“But lucky for us people as a whole seem to understand that things are changing in the financial industry and in the insurance industry.

“Today insuretech is a very common word. When we started almost three years ago there was no such word as insuretech,” he says.

Erez is also open about the challenges of running an international team, but says Queensland offers his startup exciting opportunities.

“We have an international team, we have offices in Tel Aviv, in San Francisco and here in Brisbane. It can be kind of challenging to have a meeting when it’s not 3am somewhere,” he says.

“But in Queensland you have the opportunity to engage with so many people that are willing to listen and are kind, and that’s not the case in other places.

“In Brisbane, we sit in River City Labs, part of The Precinct, and we’re surrounded by people with amazing ideas doing amazing stuff.

“It’s just a perfect place for innovation and exciting stuff to happen and there is such an opportunity for entrepreneurs to be part of this change and to be a part of this excitement,” says Erez.

Erez’s advice to Queenslanders who want to give their own startup a go is to talk to people.

“I find so many people who have been hiding their idea and working on it in their garage for years before they even talk to anyone else,” he says.

“Talk to people, get out there and learn, come visit us at The Precinct, there are different events and education sessions almost every day so you can get involved with the community and learn a lot.”

Erez is excited about a future when businesses are able to take the advantages of his platform for granted.

“CRiskCo is going to be the standard in risk assessment for businesses around the world.

“We are going to enable small businesses to get access to credit that now seems impossible but in the future will seem like it has always been here,” he says.

CRiskCo are currently looking for software developers/data scientists to join their Brisbane team. If you’re interested contact Erez at contact@criskco.com.
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