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November 2, 2017
Picture an army of Alexa’s processing massive amounts of data so humans can get back to doing human work. That’s the vision of HeavyWater, a startup that is harnessing artificial intelligence to create an alternative workforce that liberates human beings from handling mundane business processes.
Co-founded by Soofi Safavi and Terry Schreiber, HeavyWater works with companies in the financial and insurance sectors to increase efficiency and remove the drudgery from work that exists in any industry where data is the raw material. In turn, more human talent can be devoted to jobs that require empathy and creativity, cognitive abilities that technological devices can’t recreate (yet…).
HeavyWater accomplishes this through its product AIVA, an artificial intelligence virtual assistant. As Safavi (the former CTO at mortgage insurer the Radian Group) puts it, HeavyWater is developing a model like Amazon’s Alexa that can engage with humans as it processes business content and broad data. Founded just two years ago, the ic@3401 member already has a client list that includes large financial institutions. Safavi says HeavyWater has been successful thanks in large part to collaborations with academic institutions and the wealth of young talent that exists in Philly.
In order to be close to academic institutions, HeavyWater engineers first hunkered down in a row home in University City until they grew out of the space. The company then expanded its headquarters to ic@3401, a collaborative workspace and partnership between the Science Center and Drexel University, and home to the largest group of funded, early-stage tech companies in Philadelphia.
ic@3401’s location in uCity Square gives HeavyWater access to Penn and Drexel talent, allowing Safavi and his team of 12 to be part of a community of young programmers in Philly’s tech scene. Safavi says the company plans on expanding its network to other universities, like Johns Hopkins and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Maintaining connections to academic institutions gives companies like HeavyWater access to the resources and talent that enable them to better compete with the Googles and Facebooks of the world.
All the resources in the world though cannot change the fact that building a company is extremely hard work.
“You hear all these stories in terms of one percent out of 99 succeeding. It’s very hard,” Safavi says.
“I remember an interview Mark Zuckerberg did after Facebook came out. He joked that all of these biographies and success stories show developers staying up all night partying and coding. And then all of a sudden it’s a $2 billion dollar company. That part in the middle that they don’t show? That’s where the magic is.”
Safavi likens being an entrepreneur to deciding to go underwater to hold your breath. “You're continuously debating with yourself, saying that ‘If I can hold it for just five more seconds, all of these good things will happen.’ And the other side of you is saying ‘Enough is enough, go to the surface.’”
The future is looking bright for HeavyWater, and though the life of an entrepreneur can be as scary as a dive into the ocean, some advice from a wise blue tang may help those feeling the pressure – just keep swimming.