#21 – BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS AND BOOSTING DIVERSITY – QUEST MOFFAT/PROJECT UK



When it comes to representation and funding for minorities in the startup world, the numbers are sobering. Less than 3% of venture capital goes to female led startups, while just .02% (you read that right) goes to startups led by women of color. And there are so few Hispanics given the opportunity to lead a company or acquire capital, there aren’t even statistics for them.

That’s why the work of organizations like Project UK (United Knowledge) are so critical. In the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast, we travel to Kansas City to visit with Quest Moffat, founder of what he dubs a startup studio.

It’s far more than just an accelerator. Moffat outlines how Project UK is working to provide resources to founders struggling to validate their business ideas, by providing capital and counsel to aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those of color.

In a frank discussion with Microsoft technical evangelist Jordan Svencara and producer/correspondent Josh Kerns, Moffat details the radical approach and breakthrough successes Project UK has fostered by bringing capital and knowledge to those who otherwise be shut out. And he outlines why huge advances in breaking down barriers are happening in the Silicon Heartland, not the Valley.

“Looking at the deals, our deals in Kansas City were holding the same percentage of investments into women and people of color as Silicon Valley, Boston and New York. And so we took it upon ourselves to say ‘what can we do to solve it’,” Moffat says.

Listen now for thought provoking insightsinto into the challenges facing minority founders, and the innovative solutions fostered by pioneers like Quest Moffat at Project UK in Kansas City in the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast


#20 – TRASH TALKING BOTS AND THE NEW MEDIA LANDSCAPE – ALEX BECKMAN/GAME ON



How do you make watching sports and other events truly social, and build a successful business for major media companies at the same time?  For Game On co-founder and CEO Alex Beckman, it’s all about the bots.

The problem to solve for the San Francisco-based startup is  figuring out how to get people to watch content they want to watch on the devices they want to watch it on without making the assumption that because it was done a certain way on TV that’s how it should be done online, Beckman says.

“Maybe four or five years ago we began to really see people distinguish between digital and mobile and understand that digital is not mobile. And now we’re seeing that mobile is not a thorough enough term,” Beckman tells host Jim Brisimitzis in the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast.

Beckman shares stories of growing up in the epicenter of the technology world in Silicon Valley, with classmates named Ellison and the like showing a second generation of genius from a young age.  While Beckman could hang with them, coding wasn’t his calling.

“I was a bad developer. I didn’t love sitting down and writing code,” he laughs.

Lucky for him, his love of film and technology led to him instead to build a successful business he sold to Yahoo just nine months later.  But he and his co-founders recognized they had far more work to do.

Beckman details the lessons learned building a product and company, successfully exiting, then going it alone a second time.  He admits he made plenty of mistakes, and is trying to enjoy this go-round far more.

In the wide ranging and insightful conversation, he dispenses plenty of hard earned advice for fellow founders and would-be entrepreneurs.  Surprisingly, that going it alone isn’t the answer.

I think everybody should have two co-founders because the odds of two people having a bad day on the same day are high, but that third just gives you the chance one of you is not having a bad day, and silly as that sounds that probably saved.

Check out Beckman’s conversation with Brisimitzis on the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast


#19 – AI, CONTRACTS AND A LEGAL DISRUPTION – ANDY ABBOTT/HERETIK



For every deal, there’s a document.  Actually, potentially hundreds of thousands or even millions of them.  But thriving Chicago startup Heretik is leveraging AI to help the legal world search, sort through and analyze contracts, dramatically cutting the time and money spent in contract review.

The work has always been done manually, with lawyers and paralegals opening documents one at a time, reading each clause, section or paragraph, then copying and pasting into Excel for review.

“It’s a very tedious process. It takes weeks, some times months to go through, and we’re bringing in some artificial intelligence to streamline that to take those months down to days, sometimes hours,” says Andy Abbott, co-founder and CTO of Heretik.

Abbott is the featured guest on the latest edition of Series A-The Podcast, recorded at 1871 in Chicago.

“For global enterprises, any deal can mean hundreds of thousands if not millions of documents for complete viewpoint of risk and obligations,” Abbott tells Microsoft technical evangelist Martin Schray and producer/correspondent Josh Kerns.

It’s his second venture as a founder.  His first company Booked Out was acquired by Shiftgig, leaving Abbott wondering what to do next.

“I realized I didn’t want to work at a larger company. I still wanted to do that entrepreneurial thing,” he says.

Abbott’s experiences have served him well with his new venture.

“Obviously the second time you have a lot of lessons that you’ve learned, mistakes that you’ve made previously and it is easier,” he says.

Abbott offers a myriad of insights for his fellow founders, from product development to sales.  His revelation the company created no code for months while connecting with potential customers and truly understanding their needs before building a solution is among the eye-opening tidbits.

“What happens a lot is you focus on building that product first and then when you go out to share it, to give it to your customers, you hit these roadblocks.”

Abbott also details lessons learned bringing disruption to old-school industries like the legal field used to doing things manually.

“If you’re going to introduce change or bring in technology to a space that isn’t used to it, they’re going to push back. And so how can we reduce that push back?”

Listen to the latest edition of Series A-The Podcast to learn how Heretik is overcoming that, and making a major mark on the law.


#18-CURIOSITY+COMMUNITY=STARTUP SUCCESS – JESSICA TENUTA/PACKBACK



If knowledge is power, then Chicago-based startup Packback is rocket fuel for college students blasting off into the future (excuse the cheesy analogy, but it’s apropos in this case.)

In the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast, hosted by Jim Brisimitzis from the Microsoft for Startups team, we profile the dynamic startup changing the way college students and their professors share information and knowledge to help empower fearless, relentless curiosity.

“Instead of just focusing on memorizing facts, Packback Questions is the place where you can ask the big, sometimes unanswerable, questions that you’re truly curious about,” says Jessica Tenuta, co-founder and chief product officer, in a wide-ranging conversation with technical evangelist Martin Schray and producer/correspondent Josh Kerns.

Tenuta offers keen insights into the company developed by a group of college students, now reaching tens of thousands of students nationwide.  Packback builds artificial intelligence to quantify and improve difficult-to-measure student success metrics at scale — such as student critical thinking, soft skills and curiosity — by analyzing a student’s written questions and essay answers. Their product Packback Questions is a “smart” online discussion platform powered by their AI, where students engage in rigorous academic discourse as a core part of their instructor’s curriculum and coursework.

Tenuta details how the company’s commitment to its core values drive all of their decisions, from product development to hiring – often passing on top tech talent if they don’t seem like a good fit for the culture.  She also provides key lessons for other founders on recognizing when to pivot, how to work best with multiple co-founders (in their case, four), and she reveals the company’s true secret to success: Pepper the Packback pup.

Despite barely being old enough to rent a car, Tenuta and her team are bringing a major change to ed tech, and their experience and enthusiasm or extremely valuable to anyone looking to learn from truly pioneering founders.


#17 – MAKING CONNECTING SMARTER & BETTER – LISA CARREL/PROXFINITY



Attending a conference, meetup or gathering and coming away without making valuable contacts is an all too common and frustrating occurrence for busy business people.  But Chicago-based Proxfinity is shining a literal light on the problem – with a unique wearable and software solution.

In this edition of Series A – The Podcast, meet Lisa Carrel, co-founder and CSO of the company bringing real change to the conference world.

Carrel shares the journey of Proxfinity with Microsoft for Startups technical evangelist Martin Schray and producer/correspondent Josh Kerns, detailing a unique path that included patenting a product before there was really even a market.

In a nutshell, Proxfinity’s solution features a smart badge that lights up to identify common interests and allow people seeking to make connections a quick and easy way to identify someone they should speak with.  It sounds simple, but it’s an elegant, complex and effective way to maximize the time and efficacy of a networking event.

Carrel offers valuable insights and advice for other female founders on everything from raising capital to building a team, and chronicles how Proxfinity pivoted several times before settling into its successful strategy and solution.

Even though Proxfinity emerged from a cohort of female-led companies nurtured by 1871 in Chicago, the company’s story, struggles and successes are important teachings from any entrepreneur.

 


#16 – SMART APARTMENTS AND A SMARTER KC – BLAKE MILLER/HOMEBASE



From a smart city to smart apartments, Kansas City entrepreneur Blake Miller has been at the forefront of innovation on the Silicon Prairie.

In the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast, we travel to Kansas City for an in-depth look at why America’s heartland is home to some of the nation’s top tech talent along with arguably its best barbecue.

Producer/correspondent Josh Kerns visits with Miller and Microsoft for Startups technical evangelist and engineer Jordan Svancara to go inside his latest venture Homebase, a smart apartment platform and ecosystem poised to dramatically change the rental housing game for tenants and property managers alike.

“After researching the market, the results were conclusive–current property management platforms aren’t built to handle the needs of today’s connected life,” Miller says.

For residents, Homebase brings together the best of IoT, combining smart appliances, security and the like with rent and utilities payment, maintenance management and more.

Homebase enables far better management for apartment owners as well, from finance to maintenance, enabling dramatic improvements in efficiencies, service and ultimately revenues.

Miller and Svencara also offer an insiders view into what makes Kansas City so special as a pioneer in innovation, from municipal WiFi to fiber to a number of other public/private partnerships that have spurred continued growth and success for the city, entrenched enterprises like Sprint, Garmin and Cerner, and countless startups like Homebase.  And did we mention the barbecue?!


#15 – EXCLUSIVE & IN-DEPTH: CHICAGO TECH TITAN HOWARD TULLMAN



Plenty of people are called industry leaders, tech titans, ground breakers and pioneers.  But few have earned the moniker like Chicago tech visionary Howard Tullman.  The serial entrepreneur has helmed a variety of successful companies, written numerous influential books, and helped spawn hundreds of other companies through his groundbreaking startup collective 1871, the epicenter of the Chicago tech scene.

In a very special edition of Series A – The Podcast, Tullman shared his rare insights and wisdom in an exclusive, in-depth conversation with technical evangelist Martin Schray from the Microsoft startups team in Chicago and Series A producer/correspondent Josh Kerns as he prepares to retire from his role as CEO.

Tullman offered unique perspectives on what makes Chicago such a vibrant economic center, despite often being overshadowed by other cities like NY and San Francisco. (1:00)

“It’s very rare to find an economy where no single part, sector or industry is more than 12 or 13 percent,” he says.

The result is a thriving economy with opportunities in all industries, from logistics to automotive, education to CPG.  And its area universities turn out more computer science and engineering graduates than perhaps Boston, Tullman says.

He offers some provocative but realistic takes on the failings of big enterprises to nurture innovation, creating widespread opportunities for startups – especially in Chicago. (3:10)

“If you look back at the last decade or two, I would say that all of these big corporations starved R&D and now they’re desperate to make it up and they think M&A is going to make it up and that’s not going to happen by itself. It’s going to happen when you have match makers like 1871, when you have people that have developed whole pipelines of opportunities.”

Tullman shares his unique experience in the evolution of Chicago as a tech center, growing from just two percent of the economy when he founded 1871 six years ago (6:00) (named after the year of the great Chicago fire that leveled much of the city, but sparked its renaissance) to 14 percent today.

“In the last five years we’ve added 165,000 jobs that we would call tech-oriented jobs,” he says of Chicago’s growth.

(10:41) Tullman speaks passionately of 1871’s successful efforts to nurture women in tech and Chicago’s place as the leading city for female entrepreneurs, as well as the critical need and value of diversity.

(17:45) Among the other highlights are his perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of new trends, (21:00) his criteria for selecting companies for 1871 or his funds, Why he penned a recent article in Inc. and believes in slowing down some companies and founders moving at the usual breakneck speed of the startup world (30:00), and the use and value of metrics to evaluated performance. (41:00)

It’s a rare and extremely valuable  opportunity to hear from such a titan of tech and business for anyone interested in entrepreneurship, leadership and the Chicago tech ecosystem on the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast.


#14-FINDING NEEDLES IN A TRADE SHOW HAYSTACK – SUMMITSYNC



Many business people will tell you there are few things worse than attending a crowded trade show like CES or NRF in hopes of connecting with a potential customer, only to find it nearly impossible to find the needle in a haystack.

It’s a problem veteran founders and marketing and sales guys John Corrigan and Al Torres faced themselves, prompting them to set out to change that.

Their NY-based startup SummitSync elegantly marries AI and machine learning to help large companies identify and connect with customers across the more than 85,000 conferences of all size held in the U.S. each year.

“We help them figure out who’s going to be there, we help set up the meetings in person, and then we can connect all of that information automatically back to their CRM and their marketing platform to help…from handshake to customer journey,” says Corrigan, CEO and co-founder in an interview on the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast.

It’s a huge problem, and opportunity.

“You’re talking about a $300 billion industry,” COO and co-founder Torres tells producer/correspondent Josh Kerns.  “End of the day, it’s about how do I get in front of my prospects in order to drive the business.”

The co-founders outline their journey as a startup, building a product and bringing it to market, their lessons learned, and the dramatic pivots they’ve taken along the way.

Their experiences provide tremendous insights for any founder and an extremely enlightening and entertaining conversation.


#13 – AI IN LA – CITY OF ANGELS AT THE EPICENTER



When you think of business in LA, artificial intelligence isn’t likely to come to mind. But it turns out a number of leading entrepreneurs and academics have made the City of Angels an epicenter of AI.
Some of those leading minds came together recently for Applied AI, an event hosted by LA-based startup Deep Current.

The gathering drew several hundred to the company’s headquarters to hear from and visit with Steven Guggenheimer, Corporate Vice President overseeing Microsoft’s AI business; Joel Luxenberg, CEO and founder of Deep Current, and Prem Natarajan, Vice Dean of USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.
Before the event, the trio were joined by veteran tech writer Jonathan Shieber for an enlightening conversation with Microsoft US/Canada startups leader Jim Brisimitzis for a special edition of Series A – The Podcast.

Professor Natarajan detailed LA’s rich past with artificial intelligence, machine learning and the like dating all the way back to the late 40’s, and helped provide context about the myths and realities of AI as it gains popularity and visibility.

Shieber provided an interesting perspective on the wealth of tech talent across Southern California transcending far more than just the entertainment industry, from LA’s rich history with everything from aviation to fashion.

“The fact of the matter is that there is a lot to explore and a lot of rich veins to mine for entrepreneurs and investors that are looking at the Los Angeles ecosystem for growth and returns,” Shieber says.
Guggenheimer outlined Microsoft’s vision for AI and the company’s history dating back more than 25 years in advanced research. But as with the others, he spoke of the reality and practical applications, and where the company sees technology going.

“One of the areas that you’re getting to have a platform layer that’s unique is in AI. So it sits above the cloud or the edge and it gives you unique capabilities, be it cognative services, or conversational user experiences and so that’s an area of focus,” Guggenheimer says.

“My own view is that if you do a good job with AI, people don’t know it’s AI. The products just work better.”

For Luxenberg, he sees the need to leverage AI and other technologies to solve real business problems and bridge the gap between humans and machines to deliver real value today to enterprises, rather than some utopian vision of the future.

“Deep Current is an engineering organization,” he says. “We’re coming in really tactfully looking at how we can solve problems using machine learning technologies is really important because there’s a lot of buzz around automation right now. every single industry, every single business leader wants to do this. And yet the automation solutions that exist can never get past the 70-80% marker because they’re not augmenting processes.”

Join Joel, Guggs, Prem, Jonathan, Jim and producer/correspondent Josh Kerns for a fascinating look at Applied AI and the tech scene in LA in the latest edition of Series A-The Podcast, available now.


#12 – SMARTER CITIES/AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES – PAUL VALCHEFF-METROTECH



A tragic fatality involving an autonomous Uber vehicle in Arizona recently again underscored the challenges facing the burgeoning industry.  But Atlanta-based startup Metrotech is at the forefront in developing solutions that could help make the future safer and help manage the ever increasing congestion throttling most of our major metropolitan areas.

The lastest edition of Series A- The Podcast travels to the Atlanta Tech Village, where host Jim Brisimitzis visits with Metrotech COO/CTO and veteran Silicon Valley startup fixer Paul Valcheff.

The promise of easing traffic and managing a future that could bring us far closer to one envisioned by the Jetsons was what drew Valcheff to Metrotech.

“If you’re all drawing from the same data sets and if you’re all communicating with each other, now we can finally get through congestion.”

Valcheff details the rapid, tech-driven changes in the automotive industry that are shifting the focus from Detroit to the Silicon Valley and other tech centers including Atlanta.

“There are massive changes over the next five to 10 years that we can’t even imagine today,” he says in the wide ranging conversation.

Valcheff offers interesting comparisons between the Silicon Valley and Atlanta for founders, as well as a number of hard-earned lessons and insights regardless of geography.

He also provides an insider’s perspective on opportunities for founders across the country when it comes to what’s being termed “Transportation Technology” or “Trans Tech,” and details why Atlanta is poised to become the center of what promises to be a multi-billion dollar industry (with the world’s busiest airport, Delta Airlines, UPS, AT&T, Kia and numerous other car manufacturers and OEM’s, it’s understandable why.)

Listen now to the in depth conversation on the future of transportation technology in this edition of Series A-The Podcast with Jim Brisimitzis, General Manager of the Microsoft for Startups team in the United States and Canada.


#11 – CONNECTING SALES AND MARKETING – PIYUSH SAGGI – SALESTING



Why would anyone leave a highly successful sales career after a decade at Microsoft with all the benefits that come with it?

“One day I just realized sometimes you have to step out of the picture to actually see the picture clearly,” says Piyush Saggi, the CEO and co-founder of Atlanta-based SalesTing.

What Saggi repeatedly encountered was a huge disconnent between sales and marketing.  So the Georgia Tech MBA set out to fix it.

Saggi shares his insights founding the flourishing startup in the latest edition of Series A-The Podcast, recorded on location at the Atlanta Tech Village with host Jim Brisimitzis.

Saggie offers great lessons in moving from the enterprise to a startup, and the problems that come with shifting from selling IT to creating solutions.

“The realization was that marketing organizations, sales organizations…they are basically living in two different solar systems, and the lack of data is causing  bad decisions or lack of decisions in many cases,” he says.

Saggi admits it’s been difficult and humbling at times, and acknowledging his own shortcomings has been a key in his own development as a CEO.

“There are all these skill sets I did not have to build a company,” he laughs.

Saggi offers tremendous insights for other founders, including the need to build relationships and shore up those shortcomings well before you launch your startup to minimize the learning curve.

Saggi also shares his learnings on building a team and hiring employees, including the challenge of actually identifying the best fits.

“Everybody has to share the dream and the vision.  It’s not about the 401 match at this point…And you need people who are really good at execution,” he says.