The Nightmare Presentation Meetings: A Long Way for One Enterprise to Fund Its AI Startup

Growing up in Alaska, Heather Shoemaker always felt that being able to speak a foreign language was a superpower. This prompted her to study French and Spanish and get a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. While working as an interpreter and waiter after college She was walking around Seattle when she heard a report on NPR describing Java programming as the future of technology. I immediately decided to go back to school and learn a different kind of language: programming.

Shoemaker earned a degree in engineering and spent the next decade as a software developer reformatting source code for companies that were expanding their operations internationally and needed their software to support multiple languages. I realized that the biggest obstacle was not the software. Companies with a global footprint and predominantly English-speaking workforce needed more help with providing customer support. With artificial intelligence and her skills as a developer, Shoemaker saw an opportunity to give her superpowers to everyone.

In 2017, it launched Language I / OAn AI-powered SaaS platform that provides real-time multilingual customer support in over 100 languages.

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Shoemaker is used to being the only woman in the room, from graduate classes at school and working in artificial intelligence, where only women make up industry quarter. K female founder And CEO, she felt like she was in uncharted territory when in 2019 she went looking for investors for her bootstrap company, which is based in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Less than 2 percent of corporate software companies are founded by womenAlthough obstetric higher returnsStartups led by all-female teams face off when it comes to securing venture capital support. During the first half of this year, women received just 2 percent of funding and made up just 6.9 percent of deals, according to Pitchbook data. Shoemaker assumes that the number should be lower for female developer organizations. However, knowing the stats did not qualify her for the reception she had received in dozens of unsuccessful meetings.

Rude men with money

“I’ve talked to a lot of people and it was just a nightmare,” she says. “I don’t know why they think what I do is easy.”

Shoemaker can tell that venture capital firms were not used to seeing a woman, especially one with technical skills as opposed to an MBA. They asked, “How hard is it to repeat what you coded?” Shoemaker says – hinting that if a woman programmed the software, it should be simple copying it to any other developer, making it less valuable.

Another investor who passed away told her, “If I were an older man with a long beard, it would be a lot easier to showcase AI for me. That would be more Normal. We are not used to this is.

One morning on her daily commute, Shoemaker dreamed up a plan that had reached farce-level proportions. Life would be so much easier if the I/O had a male founder, so why not pretend to be one? I thought about shortening her name to Heath, wearing a beard in Zoom meetings, and even went so far as to research audio editing software. Before the fundraising effort turned into a Shakespearean comedy, Shoemaker decided against it.

“I thought about it a little longer,” she says with a laugh. “You don’t want to start a relationship with venture capital lying about who you are.”

Massive gender bias in artificial intelligence

This dismissive attitude towards women working in AI is a problem not only for disabled organizations, but for society as a whole. By 2025, AI will have created 97 million new jobs, according to World Economic Forum. As algorithms become more integrated into everyday life, the people who write the code will need to reflect the population.

The alternative – a programming monolith – produces biased results, even unintentionally. Gartner It is estimated that up to 85 percent of AI projects deliver false results due to biases in the data, algorithms, or teams responsible for managing them. This means that companies looking to take advantage of AI will end up with defective products.

For example, Shoemaker explains, if an AI translates the word doctor from a gender-neutral language into a gender-neutral language, the word the program will almost always choose to give the user will be the male form while the nurse will be translated into the female form.

“It drives me crazy,” she says. “And now, since it’s not always gender binary, we need to start thinking about gender-neutral terms; no one has brought up this topic yet.”

Finding the right investor

After dozens of rejections, Shoemaker considered giving up the venture capital, but in October 2020, she found some success near home raising $500,000 in Wyoming. But it needed more capital. A consultant in Jackson, Wyoming, connected Language I/O to the East Coast Angel Network Golden Seeds, which focuses on women-led startups, and Boston-based investor Eric Schnadig, who told Shoemaker he would introduce her to — called “Super Angel.” Shoemaker didn’t know what that meant, but he was willing to meet any potential backer at this point. In Boston, she finally met someone who really overheard her proposal.

Bob Davoli, founder and managing director of Gutbrain Ventures, reacted very differently to that of other investors presented by Shoemaker. “He immediately got the market opportunity and wasn’t arguing with me about the size of the market,” she says. “He didn’t have the wrong impression that Google would do exactly what we do.”

Davoli, described by Shoemaker as a feminist, was not your typical capital. Known for his hands-on approach and hobby overtime work as a singer-songwriter, he had a 30-year track record as an investor and settled on Business Week cover In 2000. The owner a file Comprised primarily of institutional software platforms, including startups focused on AI Shoemaker, he says finding an investor with such depth of sectoral knowledge was critical and making exposure easy.

In 2021, Davoli co-led a $5 million Series A funding round, followed by another $6.5 million round announced last January. To date, Language I/O has raised $14.7 million. Shoemaker’s tip for other businesses struggling to secure funding: Find someone who knows your field and don’t give up. “Just like dating, you’re going to have a whole bunch of bad dating,” she says. “But then you will find a good person.”