US founder of Aegis got idea to address gun violence while growing up in SA

The founder of a US startup which aims to tackle gun violence in America through smart cameras, says he got to know the seriousness of the problem while growing up in South Africa.

US tech publication TechCrunch reported earlier this week in an article that Chicago based Aegis AI had raised $2.2-million in funding in a round led by Bling Capital, to turn security cameras into gun-detecting smart cameras.

In an interview today by phone with Ventureburn, the startup’s co-founder and CEO Sonny Tai confirmed that he  was born in Taiwan and that he moved with his mother and sister to South Africa when he was seven, after his father passed away from asthma.

He said he joined a large number of other Taiwanese who the apartheid government was looking to attract to the country in the 1980s. As Tai also suffered from asthma, his mother decided South Africa’s better air quality might help.

Aegis AI co-founder Sonny Tai moved with his mother and sister to SA when he was seven

The three settled in Johannesburg and Tai says he attended Bedfordview Primary School and the first six months of grade eight at St Benedicts and his mother voted in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994.

But in 1999 when a close family friend and publisher of a Chinese language newspaper was shot dead in his own home, his mother decided it was time to move and took him and his sister to Chicago in the US.

In the US she worked a $12-an-hour job on a H-1B visa to support the three.

Tai, who says he became a US citizen in 2008, served in the Marine Corps for a number of years, which included a tour of Afghanistan in 2012. He then went on to serve as a management consultant for two years before starting Aegis with Ben Ziomek 18 months ago.

After his experience in South Africa, Tai says the trigger to starting Aegis was the 2017 Las Vegas shooting in which a gunman killed 58 people.

The startup utilises artificial intelligence (AI) software that works with video cameras to recognise when a gun in drawn. To do so the software had to be fed with over 3000 images to ensure the accuracy of its recognition.

At schools the software an alert can be sent to the mobile phone of a school’s security representative should a gun be detected in hallways or classrooms.

He says the startup is working with a number of schools and companies, but pointed out that because of non-disclosure agreements he could not name any.

Currently the startup has a team of seven people and Tai says he’s looking to hire developers and data scientists and ramp this up to 10 people by the year’s end.

And despite leaving South Africa he says he still has friends there and has visited four times in the last six years. Says Tai: “I love South Africa!”

*Correction: Sonny Tai stated in the initial version of this story that his mother was on a A1 visa when they entered the US in 1999. He subsequently emailed Ventureburn to say that it was in fact a H-1B visa. We have amended the story accordingly.

Featured image: Aegis AI co-founder and CEO Sonny Tai (Facebook)



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