Over the past few years, large corporations have expanded the way that data moves across different markets and verticals. Today, AI is omnipresent in our everyday lives — powering things like maps, spam filters, banking transactions, social networking, and online shopping. AI has quickly become absorbed into business and leisure alike, adding value and enabling the creation of new products.

A need for innovation continues to draw interest from investors and founders, but a lack of resources is often their downfall in a competitive marketplace. Finding the highest-potential startups is important, but corporations and investors are wary about chasing trends in an oversaturated market. Building authentic connections is incredibly important for founders looking for the resources necessary to create a competitive moat.

That’s the problem that led Forbes 30 Under 30 “Aku” Aakriti Srikanth and “Cece” Chan Chuan Chen to create AI Venture Amalgamators, which gathers up investors and top executives from some of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech giants under the same roof to support innovation in AI.

photography by Neal Waters

AI Venture Amalgamators (AIVA) collaborates closely with San Francisco’s Modernist Social Club founders Steve Chen and Shan Shan Fu to host events where startup founders could meet with enterprises and investors to help them succeed in the competitive Silicon Valley technology landscape.

“Startups need the resources and support of major corporations and investors to make their vision a reality,” said Srikanth. “Both parties need to bring real value into the relationship. These strong relationships happen when two parties can agree upon the same values.”

On November 20th, AIVA hosted Venture Unite, a closed panel discussion to discuss how AI is transforming modern businesses, and how investors and corporations can work together with entrepreneurs to bring about this change. The panel featured fellow 2019 Forbes listers Priya Saiprasad and Sami Ghoche, as well as Forbes 2016 alumni Sarah Austin and Mandy Salzman.

The panelists discussed how corporations and investors will often determine whether AI startup will succeed or fail, and the importance of founders partnering with corporates who can understand what they contribute to the conversation. Getting access to the resources and data isn’t enough — startups need to understand how to apply that data to go to work for their customers.

Saiprasad highlighted how important timing is when considering new partnerships, “As an entrepreneur, it’s so easy to get carried away with a plethora of options in front of you. There’s a right stage to consider partners, potentially not when performing bread and butter on your own GTM.” 

When approaching a new partnership, startups founders must take care to understand the way major corporations and investors measure value and align their solutions to those metrics. The best tech doesn’t always win; even when they don’t quite understand the technology behind it, corporations and investors are more willing to fund startups if they are able to focus on the problem they’re solving for their customers.

Ghoche’s startup, Forethought AI, focuses on easing the burdens of customer support workers. Ghoche and his co-founders built an enterprise search platform called Agatha Answers which utilizes advanced natural language understanding (NLU) to improve customer service workflows and help agents answer inquiries. Unlike traditional chatbots, Agatha Answers relies on real people to answer the questions but eases the burden on them by providing recommended answers and advanced routing systems that are able to categorize the inquiries based on context.

Last year, they managed to win at TechCrunch Disrupt’s Startup Battlefield and raised a $9M Series A round led by New Enterprise Associates. “The things we’re doing as a company, and some other companies are doing, weren’t even remotely possible before,” said Ghoche, “If you read about some of the research that’s coming out, it’s challenging a lot of the mental models that people have about what AI is capable of doing.”

For Srikanth, personal matchmaking is key, “It takes understanding the goals of the other person, and trying to see how you could actually be valuable to them,” she said, “Getting funded by VC firms or angels is as good as a marriage. You’re going to be working with them and tied to them for the next 10 years or more.”

photography by Neal Waters

In addition to Forethought, Srikanth has worked with startup founders such as CyCognito’s Rob Gurzeev and Adeptmind’s Gu Wu, to help them build connections that give them greater access to the capital and other resources needed to realize their visions. She is currently working as a co-founder at Ahura AI, a workforce development company using facial tracking to measure learning patterns and adapt curriculums on the fly.

Building up close, personal relationships through these types of events is essential for startup founders hoping to thrive in Silicon Valley’s competitive and close-knit marketplace. “San Francisco, the valley is very small, and the community of ventures and entrepreneurs is very small,” said Salzman, “So kindness is very important; what goes around comes around.”

“Having that humble sort of mindset, where no one really knows it all, and we’re all in this system together, helping each other out,” said Saipaisad. “The more success [you have], there are more things that could go wrong in your life and things that could go wrong in your career.”

Ghoche says that he always plans for the worst-case scenario, “I’m a bit risk-averse. I have to be okay with the worst, or else I wouldn’t do it. If you know what the worst is, and you’re okay with it, that enables you to go for the big thing.”

Video by Neal Waters Photography