How an entrepreneur used LinkedIn to raise $13.8 million

Abu Mubarik April 25, 2024
Benjamin Harvey. Photo credit: Forbes/AI SQUARED

Benjamin Harvey is the founder of AI Squared, a third-party software company that helps organizations deliver data and AI insights into business applications.

He conceptualized the idea for the company after joining the National Security Agency (NSA) as chief of operations for its data science division. This came after NSA scientists discovered major lapses in providing real-time data and analytics to U.S. military personnel, according to Forbes.

After more than 10 years, the Bowie State University Ph.D. graduate left the NSA to join Databricks, a data and analytics company, as a solutions architect. While at Databricks, he pitched the company’s co-founder, Matei Zaharia, on the potential of AI Squared.

Harvey said Zaharia called it “Reverse ETL for AI ML,” which means “extract, transform, and load” data from AI and machine learning. “Databricks stops at building models,” Harvey said. “We need technologies that can support integrating those insights from those models into applications” that drive business outcomes.

Getting his business off the ground did not come easy for Harvey. He had to be innovative and bold about it, particularly in terms of funding. He told Forbes that he maxed out a $20,000 credit card and used $500,000 from a retirement account he co-owns with his wife to start AI Squared in 2019. In 2022, he took the unconventional route to add investors by making a direct pitch on LinkedIn. He figured that a businessman like Roger Ferguson, the former CEO of TIAA, would appreciate his type of business.

“Dr. Ferguson,” Harvey wrote in February 2022, “‘Here’s some of the work that we’re doing in financial services. I would love to just have a 15-minute phone call with you.” Ferguson responded by inviting him to have breakfast at the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C.

“When I have a vision,” Harvey told Forbes, “I’m relentless in trying to make it a reality.”

In March, Ferguson and Baltimore-based New Enterprise Associates (NEA) participated in the $13.8 million Series A raise Harvey closed on in March. The funding was led by venture firm Ansa Capital. In all, the startup has raised $20 million from investors since its founding.

Harvey said his Washington, D.C.-based company employs 30 people and has contracts with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, the NSA, Nasdaq-traded cybersecurity company Rapid7, and a Coca-Cola contractor in Florida. The company generates revenue by charging product licensing and data usage fees.

“Over the past five years,” Harvey said, “organizations have been building a lot of these world-class [AI] models. But they haven’t been able to actually receive the full value of those models. We’re helping bring AI and machine learning to life.”

The company plans to use the recent funding to expand business operations to meet forecasted demand for AI-as-a-service software platforms.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: April 25, 2024


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