Author: LauraLorek@gmail.com (Page 1 of 345)

LauraLorek@gmail.com

Beth White of MeBeBot is Transforming Employee Experience with Ethical AI

Beth White was inspired to create MeBeBot to bridge the gap in employee support within companies using AI.

MeBeBot has grown significantly since its inception in 2018, driven by the rapid advancements in AI technology. The Austin-based company has raised a pre-seed round of investment. In the latest Ideas to Invoices podcast edition, White talks about her entrepreneurial journey and MeBeBot’s success.

Here are seven key takeaways from the podcast interview:

·  AI in Employee Experience: MeBeBot leverages AI to provide a “digital front door” for employees, making their interactions with workplace systems more efficient and consumer-like. This includes using AI chatbots integrated with platforms like Slack and Teams.

·  Generative AI and AI Evolution: The evolution of AI, particularly with generative AI, has opened up new opportunities but also raised concerns about its impact on the workplace. Beth emphasized the importance of working alongside AI rather than being replaced by it.

·  Hybrid AI Platform: MeBeBot’s hybrid AI platform combines generative AI with domain-specific models and includes a human-in-the-loop process to ensure accuracy and compliance, protecting companies from potential legal issues.

·  Customer Success and Real-Time Data: The company has achieved significant milestones, including integrating AI capabilities that enhance employee support and provide real-time data for better decision-making. Customers like IGT and E2open have seen substantial benefits from using MeBeBot.

·  Diversity and Inclusion: MeBeBot promotes diversity and inclusion internally by having a diverse team and externally supporting customers’ diversity initiatives. The company is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise and actively promotes diversity in tech.

·  Ethical AI for HR: Beth highlighted the importance of ethical AI in HR, emphasizing the need for responsible use of AI and educating organizations on its implications. MeBeBot started a LinkedIn group focused on ethical AI for HR professionals.

·  Future Goals: MeBeBot aims to continue advancing its product roadmap, enhancing employee experience solutions, and building a community around responsible AI. The company also plans to expand its team and potentially raise a seed round of funding in 2025.

For more information, listen to the entire podcast posted below or on Apple, Spotify, Amazon, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Beth White, Founder of MeBeBot

Beth White is a trailblazing entrepreneur and the visionary Founder and Chief Bot of MeBeBot, a groundbreaking company revolutionizing the employee experience through AI-powered solutions. Beth’s career began in the multifaceted world of Human Resources, where she honed her skills across various roles in startups and Fortune 100 companies.

Workweek Raises $12.5 Million to Disrupt Trade Ogranizations

Workweek is looking to disrupt trade organizations by providing digital-first content and podcasts.

To fuel that work, the Austin-based company, founded two and a half years ago, announced Thursday that it has closed on a $12.5 million Series A round of funding led by Austin-based Next Coast Ventures.  Other investors included Rich Greenfield and Jamie Seltzer of LightShed Ventures and David Rubenstein of Declaration Capital. Workweek previously raised $7 million in seed stage funding, Ryan said.

Workweek, with 43 employees, creates business to business newsletters and podcasts and has more than 500,000 subscribers, said Adam Ryan, Co-Founder and CEO of Workweek. With the funding, Workweek is launching a professional network platform and plans to expand its paid subscribed newsletters, he said.

Workweek’s new platform is focused on eight themed communities including marketing, healthcare, fintech and HR. The communities allow professionals to network with others in their field.

“Leaders want a place where they don’t get spammed, feel real relevance with a group, and have discussions that aren’t fluffy BS,” Ryan said in a news release. “We all have more “connections” across the other social platforms, but there’s less belonging than ever. This void is at the heart of what we’re solving.”

Workweek also plans to launch a marketplace of apps to enhance productivity and success within each field on its platform, according to the company.

“We’re incredibly excited to lead Workweek’s Series A investment,” Mikel Smerklo, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Next Coast Ventures said in a news release. “Adam Ryan and team bring unparalleled experience in creating engaging content and building strong professional communities. Their innovative platform equips business leaders with the insights and connections needed to thrive in their industries. By combining their expertise with cutting-edge technology, Workweek is uniquely positioned to transform how professionals interact with their communities.”

Dean Drako Acquires Cobalt AI

Austin Entrepreneur Dean Drako announced last week that he had acquired Fremont, Calif-based Cobalt AI.

Drako plans to serve as Cobalt AI’s chairman, while Ken Wolff, the company’s CEO, will continue leading it.

Cobalt is a leading provider of AI alarm filtering, remote monitoring, and security robot solutions for the enterprise. The Cobalt Monitoring Intelligence and the Cobalt Command Center deploy on various cameras, access control systems, robots, and other edge devices.  Cobalt’s enterprise security automation technology combines AI with human verification to improve enterprise safety, security, and facility workflows while delivering predictability at greatly reduced costs. 

Drako renamed the company from Cobalt Robotics to Cobalt AI, reflecting its AI leadership across multiple domains.

“We are thrilled that Dean Drako has acquired Cobalt and will serve as chairman. Dean has invested capital and strategic insights to grow other physical security companies to unicorns and technology leaders in their space,” Ken Wolff, CEO of Cobalt AI, said in a news release.  “We share a mutual vision of the tremendous advantages of automation through AI with human verification.  Drako’s acquisition validates our strategy to improve monitoring, response times and lower costs and also gives us the capital to deliver for our enterprise clients.” 

“I searched for the company with the most powerful AI-based enterprise security automation in our physical security industry,” Drako said in a news release.  “AI is transforming our industry, and Cobalt’s alarm filtering and other technologies are years ahead.”

“The company monitoring and command center technology is a catalyst for a new era of security,” Draco said in a news release. “They have created field-proven AI to make security and guarding tremendously more effective and efficient. Furthermore, Cobalt’s open platform strategy, which integrates with a plethora of video and access systems, is aligned with the open product strategy I believe in.”

Cobalt AI, founded in 2016, is the only company to automate repetitive manual security and facility tasks with an integrated service unifying state-of-the-art machine learning software, robotics, and expert human oversight.

Drako is a parallel entrepreneur, investor, and engineer. Drako is the founder and CEO of Eagle Eye Networks, delivering the industry’s leading AI-power cloud video surveillance system, and owner and chairman of Brivo, the industry leader in smart cloud access control systems. Previously, Drako was the founder, president and CEO of Barracuda Networks, where he developed the IT security industry’s first spam filter appliance. From Barracuda’s inception in 2003 through 2012, Drako grew the company into an IT security industry leader for mid-market businesses, with over $200 million in annual sales and 150,000 customers.

ATC Honors Ten People at its Inaugural Austin Tech Hall of Fame

Last week, the Austin Technology Council honored ten people from the Austin technology community at its first Austin Tech Hall of Fame.

The event held at Calavista Software honored eight foundational and legacy inductees whose contributions have been pivotal in establishing Austin as a thriving tech hub.

The inductees included:

John Sibley Butler: A distinguished professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Butler is renowned for his contributions to entrepreneurship, minority business development, and fostering inclusive economic growth.

Michael Dell is the founder and CEO of Dell Technologies, a pioneer in the personal computer revolution with an innovative direct-to-consumer sales model.

Lori Hawkins: A respected journalist for the Austin American-Statesman, she is known for her insightful reporting on the technology industry, startups, and venture capital, which has significantly enhanced Austin’s tech visibility.

Admiral Bobby Inman: Retired U.S. Navy admiral and intelligence expert who served in top positions at the NSA and CIA, also influential in the tech industry as a professor and board member.


Laura Kilcrease
: Prominent venture capitalist and entrepreneur, founder of Austin Technology Incubator, and CEO of Alberta Innovates, driving economic growth and technological advancement.


George Kozmetsky
: Visionary entrepreneur, co-founder of Teledyne Technologies, former dean of UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business, instrumental in promoting innovation and economic growth.


Jimmy Treybig
: Founder of Tandem Computers, pioneer of fault-tolerant computer systems, significantly advancing high-availability computing solutions.

James Truchard: Co-founder and former CEO of National Instruments, known for his leadership in virtual instrumentation and significant contributions to automated testing and measurement.

The event also recognized Joyce Durst of Growth Acceleration Partners into the 2024 Austin Tech Hall of Fame. And Ashley Rose of Living Security as the recipient of its 2024 First Time Founder Award.

The ATC Board of Directors selected this year’s inductees.

“Our tech ecosystem was created by a variety of people in a variety of roles who came together for the common good of Austin. The energy in the room at this event, from people spanning five decades, was contagious,” Thom Singer, CEO of the Austin Technology Council, said in a news release. “Our role at ATC is to continue finding ways to bring people together, as the secret weapon to Austin’s future is the people in our community working together.”

Zoho’s Founder Details the Company’s Expansion Plans in Texas

Five years ago at Zoholics, Sridhar Vembu, founder and CEO of Zoho, announced the company’s move from California to Austin.

It bought a 369-acre campus near the Austin airport. Zoho planned to build a campus there, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and plans changed. The company runs a farm on the site now and has 100 employees in an Austin office building.

The company has also opened an office in New Braunfels with 50 employees and McAllen with 80 employees.

McAllen is Zoho’s fastest-growing campus, Vembu said.

Vembu said Zoho’s problem was that Austin became too expensive. He wanted his employees to be able to buy houses and put down roots in Austin, but home prices shot up as other tech companies expanded operations there.

Zoho also plans to open a manufacturing plant in India, Vembu said.

During his keynote address at Zoholics Wednesday morning, Vembu emphasized the importance of leveraging technology and innovation in building world-class products. This includes integrating documentation systems and other tools to enhance productivity and efficiency.

However, most of his talk discussed the company’s long-term commitment to its employees and customers. This includes providing superior customer experiences and ensuring employee satisfaction and retention.

Vembu also highlighted the company’s stance on data privacy and security. He emphasized that Zoho does not monetize customer data and maintains stringent privacy measures, which align with global regulations and best practices.

Zoho, founded 28 years ago, is bootstrapped and prides itself on being profitable without succumbing to the quarterly pressures of public companies. Vembu, a billionaire, said he isn’t afraid of making mistakes or taking U-turns if things don’t work out. And he’s able to do that because the company is debt-free and isn’t beholden to investors or the stock market.

 Zoho also avoids unnecessary cost-cutting like layoffs and focuses on sustainable growth and maintaining a strong financial foundation.

Vembu stressed the importance of investing in employees, continuous learning, and skill development. The company adopts principles like Kaizen for continuous refinement and constantly encourages its employees to upgrade their skills.: The issue of customer fatigue due to multiple software applications was discussed. The speaker mentioned the company’s efforts in improving integration and providing seamless user experiences

The potential for automation in programming and its impact on productivity was a major topic. Vembu predicted significant improvements in programmer productivity and the role of AI in transforming software development.

Zoho Unveils New Services Within Catalyst by Zoho at Zoholics

Zoho is not a typical software company.

The Austin-based company started 28 years ago with one app and today has more than 55.

On Wednesday, Zoho hosted thousands of customers at Zoholics, an annual customer conference held at the Austin Convention Center. The company also unveiled significant enhancements to its offerings for professional developers and application teams. These include early access to new services within Catalyst by Zoho, a pro-code platform designed to help developers rapidly build, test, and launch full-stack, production-ready apps.

Additionally, Zoho announced the general availability of Zoho Apptics, an application analytics solution that seamlessly integrates into existing development workflows, empowering companies to create data-informed roadmaps.

“Developers have expressed frustration about creating custom solutions out of an array of disparate tools,” Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s Chief Evangelist, said in a news release. At Zoho, we are focused on providing a single, trusted source to meet developers’ needs from start to finish.”

Zoho now provides a cohesive platform that reduces time to market and maximizes productivity while ensuring user data remains secure and compliant. From concept to code to analytics, the upgraded Catalyst and the privacy-focused Apptics solution work hand in hand to deliver an unmatched developer experience and increase organizational agility.

Catalyst seamlessly integrates with the Zoho ecosystem and third-party applications, enabling developers to leverage existing infrastructure and data sources.

● Signals: Routes events from sources like Zoho services, third-party sources, or custom applications to handlers (like Catalyst Functions, Circuits, etc.) using Publishers and Subscriptions rules.

 ● NoSQL Database: Allows storing structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data while supporting diverse data types and scaling dynamically with high performance.

 ● Slate: A fully managed frontend platform that lets developers easily build highly customized interfaces that leverage frameworks such as React.js, Next.js, Sveltekit, etc

. ● CI/CD Pipeline: Automates tests and builds for continuous delivery pipelines, streamlining development workflows for faster time-to-market.

Additionally, Apptics prioritizes data privacy and security. User information is safeguarded behind encryption and access controls, ensuring analytics insights are leveraged responsibly without compromising individual privacy.

Apptics provides multi-platform analytics support, covering Android, iOS, macOS, tvOS, watchOS, iPadOS, Windows, React Native, Flutter, and Unity, with web analytics capabilities coming soon. This extensive cross-platform coverage ensures businesses can analyze and optimize digital experiences across diverse channels and touchpoints. The new features are now available for early access, and interested users can sign up by visiting Catalyst by Zoho’s page. Apptics is globally available now and offers a free and pro plan starting at $62 per month when billed annually.

Zoho respects user privacy and does not have an ad-revenue model in any part of its business, including its free products. The company owns and operates its data centers, ensuring complete oversight of customer data, privacy, and security. More than 100 million users around the world, across hundreds of thousands of companies, rely on Zoho every day to run their businesses, including Zoho itself

Austin’s Female Founders Receive Only 1% of Venture Capital: Task Force Calls for Urgent Action to Support Women Entrepreneurs


In Austin, female founders get only one percent of all venture capital allocated annually.

The lack of funds to fuel female-founded ventures is a major problem in Austin, holding back the creation of new jobs and the further development of new and existing businesses.

And it’s not just VC dollars; it’s Small Business Administration loans, grants, angel investment, and other funding options.

That’s the key finding of the Austin Women Entrepreneurs Task Force. Austin Mayor Kirk Watson commissioned the task force to create a report with recommendations to support female founders in Austin.

Carla McDonald, an entrepreneur, led the 21-person task force, which met for nine months and conducted interviews and surveys with a variety of female founders to learn about their challenges and find solutions. McDonald recently discussed the task force’s report, which they gave to the Mayor last month on the Ideas to Invoices podcast.

“One of the key learnings that came out of this is that many people don’t understand that there is a problem until these statistics and the data were made available to them,” McDonald said.

McDonald said Mayor Watson wanted the information to ensure that all members of the Austin community are participating in the city’s economic prosperity. She said the goal is to make Austin the best city in the country for women to start and build businesses.

This is a major problem worldwide, not just in the United States. McDonald said women entrepreneurs struggle far more than they should in terms of access to capital and other equity issues.

Out of the hundreds of women entrepreneurs that the task force spoke with, McDonald said the top three biggest hurdles to success were access to capital, access to a broader, more helpful network, and access to affordable office space and affordable childcare.

McDonald said that access to a network is more than just access to mentors. Women entrepreneurs are looking to build meaningful relationships with people who can help them build their businesses, make introductions, and suggest partners.

 “So, what our women entrepreneurs are feeling is a roadblock there because they’re working in a culture built on a male-dominated technology platform that has been the definition of the Austin entrepreneurial ecosystem for a very long time,” McDonald said. “And it’s also something to be very proud of. It’s what has put us on the map in many ways, but the sort of danger is that many of these men have known each other for decades, and they’re working together. They’re funding each other’s businesses and helping one another, and it’s not as though they’re locking women out or attempting to lock women out, but they’re just not meeting them. There are not those opportunities to integrate the entrepreneurial community, so what’s happening is that women are hitting these walls.”

As a result, women form networking groups with other women, but McDonald said those groups will not integrate women into the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem.

McDonald said the task force recommended the number one solution on the capital front: a Small Business Administration Women’s Business Center. She said such centers exist in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio but not Austin.

“That’s just wrong,” McDonald said. “We absolutely must have one here, and while we can’t prove causation or connection between things, I will tell you that in doing our research what we found is that SBA loans nationally, 21% of women are getting SBA loans, which by the way disparity is no good either right but we’re under indexing on those even here in Austin at 19%, and women here are getting their loans or $530,000 on average versus men in Austin any loans of $750,000.”

McDonald said only 1% of all VC capital in Austin goes to women founders despite the fact that Austin ranks number six in the nation in deal value and deal count. So there seems to be a problem there, too.

“But I like to look at the SBA loan number because not all companies are VC-fundable,” McDonald said.  

The women’s entrepreneur report looked at three kinds of entrepreneurs: small business entrepreneurs so that’s the woman who owns a food truck or a hair salon or a laundromat; growth-oriented entrepreneurs so who are the ones trying to build the next big software Unicorn and looked at aspiring entrepreneurs so the women who have ideas, but they don’t know what to do next with those ideas,

McDonald said the 1 percent of venture capital going to female-founded companies is the kind of statistic that shows you that something is really not working here.

“Because we are, in my view, the most exciting and dynamic entrepreneurial capital in the country,” she said. “There is so much going on here. There are so many terrific resources. We have so many incredible people. There is so much capital here and there are also tons and tons of really nice people here, so I don’t think this is anything that has to do with anyone trying to lock women out. I just think people are not aware of this problem, and so many of our recommendations are designed to raise awareness.”

“The report has 12 recommendations, and if you are in the private sector, the nonprofit sector, higher education, city government, or policy in any way, shape, or form, you can play a role in one or more of those 12 recommendations.”

McDonald said if people want to get involved, they can reach out through the task force email at  awetaskforce@gmail.com. The full report can be found here.

The full podcast is listed below, or you can download it on Apple, Spotify, Amazon, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Carla McDonald, the Austin Women Entrepreneurs Task Force

Carla McDonald is the founder and managing director of Dynabrand Ventures, a boutique investment firm that provides capital and marketing expertise to early-stage consumer goods companies. She also serves as Chair of the Mayor’s Task Force for Austin Women Entrepreneurs, is a mentor at SKU, the nation’s leading CPG accelerator, and was a founding investor in Capital Factory, the nationally known startup accelerator and entrepreneurial hub.

Foundation Donates 68 Acres in Taylor to UT for new Center on Semiconductor Research and Training

The Temple College at Taylor Foundation donated a 68-acre tract to the University of Texas at Austin last week.

UT plans to develop the Taylor Center at the site, which is located near the Samsung Austin Semiconductor’s new six million-square-foot chip fabrication plant.

“Advancing innovation, growing education, and cultivating leadership in the semiconductor space is a major area of focus for the University of Texas, and we are excited to have a presence in the burgeoning Taylor community and the opportunity to shape further the expanding footprint of the semiconductor ecosystem in Central Texas,” President Jay Hartzell said in a news statement. “We are grateful to the Temple College at Taylor Foundation for welcoming UT into its vision for educational and economic opportunity in the region and to the City of Taylor for its commitment to supporting one of the nation’s most critical needs.”

According to UT, the Texas Institute for Electronics is considering using the site at U.S. Highway 79 for training and research with semiconductor partners.

It’s a return to Austin’s roots. UT worked with Austin and State leaders to attract Sematech, a nonprofit consortium that performed research and development to advance chip manufacturing, to Austin in 1987.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Central Texas was a hotbed of silicon chip research and manufacturing, earning Austin the nickname Silicon Hills. But it wasn’t just Austin. In the early 1990s, San Antonio attracted Sony’s first chip-making plant in the U.S. That plant, later shut down, is now home to the National Security Agency’s campus.

Today, Austin is still a major player in chip production, with companies such as AMD, Samsung, Infineon Technologies, and others.

According to a UT news release, UT’s Texas Institute for Electronics received $552 million from the Texas Legislature to compete for CHIPS Act funding. “TIE is using some of the state funds to refurbish existing fabrication plants at the original Sematech site on Montopolis Drive and at UT’s J.J. Pickle Research Campus on Burnet Road.”

“The Temple College at Taylor Foundation has embraced a thoughtful evolution of ideas that culminated in the establishment of the University of Texas at Austin – Taylor Center,” James Bartosh, president of the foundation and a UT alumnus, said in a news statement. “UT’s and Samsung’s investment in Taylor will result in the advancement of education, research and quality of life in Central Texas.”

UT has a task force to determine how to develop the site and what programs to include.

Innovating for Health Institute Launches at UT Austin

The Innovating for Health Institute launched at the University of Texas at Austin last week.

The institute shifts the focus of the former Drug Dynamics Institute within the College of Pharmacy. Its focus is on solving health problems and collaborating with innovators.

The program is being called i4Health and is led by Janet C. Walkow, clinical professor of molecular pharmaceutics and drug delivery, and Nishi Viswanathan, adjunct assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy.

“Translational health science innovations are products and ideas but can also be ways to innovate within an organization.” Walkow said in a news release. “i4Health courses, workshops, and programming help learners think in new ways and understand how to innovate so that we can begin to create more novel health technology or rewrite how things are done within an organization. There are no limits here, only possibilities.”

In April, the University of Texas College of Pharmacy’s Innovating for Health team held its seventh annual pitch competition, showcasing student team projects. It also launched the i4health.info website.

The startups that pitched included: “CystiRNA using mRNA to reverse the genetic mutation in the lungs with the overall goal of inhibiting the progression of cystic fibrosis (CF); PulmaVanc, an inhaled combination of vancomycin and DNase I, is a targeted pulmonary therapy that avoids the hassle and reduces the toxicity associated with systemic administration of IV products; and Omaira is a novel, 3D-bio printed oral contraceptive pill designed for extended-release that lasts for a full week,” according to a news release.

Microsoft Shuts Down Arkane Studios in Austin and Lays Off 96 Employees

Microsoft has shut down Arkane Studios in Austin, which made games for the Xbox gaming console.

Arkane Studios laid off 96 people, according to a WARN notice filed with the state on May 7th. The studio created Prey, Deathloop, and Redfall, a first-person shooter video game released for the Xbox on May 2, 2023.

Arkane Studios was Austin, founded in 2006. In 2010 ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda Software, acquired Arkane Studios in 2010. Microsoft acquired ZeniMax Media in March 2021.

Microsoft did not release an official press statement on the layoffs. Windows Central obtained an email from a Microsoft executive stating, “Arkane Austin – This studio will close with some members of the team joining other studios to work on projects across Bethesda. Arkane Austin has a history of making impactful and innovative games and it is a pedigree that everyone should be proud of. Redfall’s previous update will be its last as we end all development on the game. The game and its servers will remain online for players to enjoy and we will provide make-good offers to players who purchased the Hero DLC.”

Microsoft also closed Alpha Dog Studios and Tango Gameworks.

Harvey Smith, studio director of Arkane Studios Austin, wrote on X, “I just want to say that I love al the people at Arkane Austin so much. Great times, hard times, we went through so much together. Of course, today’s news is terrible for all of us. Your talent will lift you up, and I will do anything I can to help.”

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