Integration platform AI Squared today announced the close of a $6 million seed round led by NO with the participation of Ridgeline Partners.
Launched in 2021, AI Squared helps companies adopt artificial intelligence by using a low-code platform to integrate it into existing applications in a timely and easy manner. its founder, Benjamin Harvey, was inspired to start the company after a decade with the US National Security Agency, where he watched it and other organizations struggle to apply artificial intelligence to existing applications.
The battle arose out of what is known as the last-mile challenge, which refers to the costly and time-consuming process of implementing an AI model into an application that is used every day, such as Netflix’s program recommendation system, he said. to TechCrunch.
AI Squared helps solve the last-mile problem and helps companies adopt AI by using a low-code platform to integrate it into existing applications.
Harvey said he only pitched a handful of inventors before securing the seed round, and the fundraising process took just three months. The company plans to use the funds to mature the product in preparation for the community and enterprise editions of the platform. It will also help grow the technical team, build a sales force, add marketers and expand community relationships.
Ultimately, the company gears up for a Series A in hopes of becoming the next unicorn. Six from the 600 unicorns made last year had a black founder (that is 1%† But Harvey is hopeful that, with continued success and networking, his company will continue its journey. AI Squared already has a development and research collaboration agreement with the NSA, a contract with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, and partners with Databricks, Vanguard, Tableau, Salesforce, Nvidia and Microsoft.
“As Black founders learning this complex environment for the first time, we need to build networks of tech executive communities that will act as our lifeline,” Harvey said. “That will eventually open doors for [us as] the next generation of black founders.”
Harvey has come a long way from where he started. Growing up in Jacksonville, he never thought of becoming an entrepreneur, saying that most of his childhood was devoted to finding a better place to live. He recalled how his parents filed tax returns and noted that together they made only $13,000 a year. This was in addition to the fact that Jacksonville is the murder capital city from Florida; Harvey had to focus on surviving and taking it day by day.
“Most people from a similar background end up in jail, dead,” he said, adding that the city was called “Jack and Kill” growing up. “I was always called names for being ambitious; I didn’t feel completely free to create and use my ambition.”
Today, Harvey is a three-time graduate of HBCU (historically black college or university) and studied computer science as an undergrad at Mississippi Valley State University before earning a master’s and doctorate in science from Bowie State University.
He then joined the Harvard-MIT joint Health Sciences and Technology program, studying everything from applied machine learning and algorithms to cancer genomics data sets.
After 10 years with the NSA and a stint as chief of operations, Harvey joined software company Databricks as a sales engineer in hopes of learning more about incubated technology.
There he met Matei Zaharia, one of the co-founders of Databricks, who loved Harvey’s idea of creating an accessible AI company. Zaharia introduced Harvey to Pete Sonsini, a Databricks board member, who acted as lead investor and later introduced Harvey to NEA venture partner Greg Papadopoulos.
“We were drawn to this area to bridge the gap between what people can imagine from their software systems and what they can build,” Papadopoulos told TechCrunch. “The idea of low-code, no-code, as applied to AI, also really appealed to us.”
Ridgeline Ventures partner Andrew McMahon added. “AI Squared is that rare combination of a great product and a great team,” he told TechCrunch. “We also see potential in the product to improve model bias, errors and performance by involving users and subject matter experts in the model improvement cycle.”
TechCrunch earlier reported that open source projects are popular with investors right now, and AI Squared is no different. Harvey said he uses open-source software (OSS) and an almost “freemium” version of AI Squared technology to build a community and network with organizations that could lead to bigger business deals and increased customer acquisition.
Shortly after Harvey received his term sheet in the summer of 2021, he diluted his total ownership stake in his company to give stock to the team that helped him build AI Squared’s software. He also gave each of them a “co-founder” title as a way of rewarding them for supporting him early on.
Part of his mission remains to inspire and educate other young black guys growing up in places like him who may or may not know all the roads one can take in life. Of everything he’s ever done, he said this is the first time he’s felt completely free to take advantage of his ambition — and it’s time for others like him to feel the same.
“I just wanted to get past 18, then I dreamed of a college degree, then I dreamed of a PhD, then I dreamed of becoming a tech exec, then I dreamed of becoming a professor, then I dreamed of my own successful startup, now I dream of being a unicorn,” he said. “I want to share what I have been able to discover and let those who are out there with unlimited ambition reach new heights”