Monthly Archives: May 2018


What do you get when you combine a seasoned serial entrepreneur and technologist with a PhD and tenure track cancer researcher at the University of Chicago?  One of the most promising startups disrupting the health care industry.

In the latest of edition of Series A – The Podcast, we return to Chicago for a visit with Jason Smith, the co-founder and CEO of rMark Bio.

Smith’s diverse background provides for an insightful and wide-ranging conversation spanning over 17 years of experience doing everything from raising millions in capital, leading a number of ventures and serving as principal technologist in distributed systems architecture, big data analytics, and high-performance computing from work with ATI Research, AT&T, General Dynamics, IBM and GraySky Simulations.

rMark Bio’s industry leading AI solution understands the real-time business strategies of R&D, Medical Affairs, Marketing, and Commercial to provide field representatives with clear and concise ‘next best decisions’ that remove inefficiencies and increase ROI for thought leader engagements, the company says

“Leveraging artificial intelligence, we can go beyond the who.  We can tell you why you should be engaging with them from a business perspective, what you should be engaging about when we tap into your content management systems, how this will help your business based on knowing your strategic KPI’s and strategic goals for a given quarter or year or even a year, and really what are the next best actions if you’re a field rep to meet those goals,” Smith tells technical evangelist Martin Schray and producer/correspondent Josh Kerns.


When Expedia founder Rich Barton was secretly building Zillow, it was Seattle tech news site Geekwire that first uncovered and broke the story.  Same with the first tests of Amazon foray into the grocery business and numerous other big tech stories.  That dogged reporting is why the Seattle-based enterprise has become the preeminent voice of technology in the Northwest – attracting readers from around the world.

“We founded the company – the startup – on the premise that Seattle and the Pacific NW deserved an international tech site,” says co-founder Todd Bishop.

Bishop and staff reporter Taylor Soper share their experiences and insights with host Jim Brisimitzis on the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast.

Their stories offer valuable teachings for any entrepreneur as a startup that emerged successfully from the massive disruption in the media world to become the most influential source of information and community for Northwest tech companies from Microsoft and Amazon to the smallest of startups.

“From the beginning we knew that digital advertising was not going to be enough to fuel the business. I think that was one of the biggest mistakes media companies were making at that time [Geekwire founding} , assuming they could just write enough stories and get enough clicks that they could use advertising networks to pull in enough revenue to sustain the business,” Bishop says.

The company has supplemented its revenue stream with other offerings including up to a dozen events a year from the highly attended Geekwire Summit to small, private dinners bringing top tech execs together.

Bishop and Soper also offer their valuable takes on hot topics such as Seattle’s controversial head tax targeting tech companies like Amazon to tackle growing income inequality and homelessness blamed on massive growth.

“My big take is that technology companies needed to have been engaged on the larger issue this is trying to address much sooner in the process,” Bishop says.

“If you’re having a conversation about your next 20 or 30 or 50 developers and there’s all of a sudden this new tax, you’re maybe rethinking that decision. This is what the CEO’s are saying,” Soper adds.
need for more startup funding if ecosystem is to grow

Bishop and Soper offer expert perspective on the differences between Seattle and Silicon Valley, the challenges facing founders now and in the future.  And they provide revealing insights into what it takes to get that all important media coverage companies crave – all too often common sense but overlooked.

“First of all, make sure your product works, make sure your website works, make sure the buttons on your app work,” Soper says.




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


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


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.


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.