ApertureData has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant for $225,000 to conduct research and development (R&D) work on scaling ApertureData’s visual data management platform for enterprise scale applications. 

The proposed research will take ApertureData closer to realizing the vision of a unified data backend for all stages of machine learning (ML) from edge to cloud, removing inefficiencies introduced by repurposing systems designed for other workloads. Capturing business value from data via ML comprises multiple steps (data collection, curation, training, etc) and is currently being addressed by multiple siloed solutions that, when integrated, result in an inefficient system. Given that each of the different steps interacts with data in one way or another, offering a unified and efficient way to interact with the data regardless of the stage reduces the complexity of ML pipelines as they scale.

“NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering,” said Andrea Belz, Division Director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF. “With the support of our research funds, any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful solutions that address tremendous needs.”

Improvements in ML have made it possible for businesses to extract rich insights from visual data (images, videos). Handling big-visual-data for ML requires storage and access methods that are designed with visual ML in mind. With the current off-the-shelf alternatives, ML engineers and data scientists are forced to glue data solutions not designed for visual data management. With our focus on the data side of ML deployments, ApertureData is well positioned to be the technical leader in addressing the next generation of challenges for ML based applications. This NSF grant will enable us to address the scalability challenges that are particularly magnified when dealing with image, videos, and its corresponding metadata like annotations and embeddings”, said Vishakha Gupta-Cledat, CEO and Co-founder of ApertureData, who will serve as the Principal Investigator for this grant.

Once a small business is awarded a Phase I SBIR/STTR grant (up to $256,000), it becomes eligible to apply for a Phase II grant (up to $1,000,000). Small businesses with Phase II grants are eligible to receive up to $500,000 in additional matching funds with qualifying third-party investment or sales.

Startups or entrepreneurs who submit a three-page Project Pitch will know within three weeks if they meet the program’s objectives to support innovative technologies that show promise of commercial and/or societal impact and involve a level of technical risk. Small businesses with innovative science and technology solutions, and commercial potential are encouraged to apply.All proposals submitted to the NSF SBIR/STTR program, also known as America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF, undergo a rigorous merit-based review process. To learn more about America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF, visit: https://seedfund.nsf.gov/

About the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Programs: America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF awards $200 million annually to startups and small businesses, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal impact. Startups working across almost all areas of science and technology can receive up to $1.75 million to support research and development (R&D), helping de-risk technology for commercial success. America’s Seed Fund is congressionally mandated through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $8.1 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.

About the Author – Vishakha Gupta

Vishakha is Co-founder and CEO of ApertureData. Prior to that, she worked at Intel Labs for over 7 years where she led the design and development of VDMS (the Visual Data Management System) which forms the core of the ApertureData Platform. Vishakha holds a Ph.D in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a M.S. in Information Networking from Carnegie Mellon University. Her research interests encompass systems in general with particular inclination towards virtualization, embedded and real time systems as well as distributed systems. She has worked on graph based storage and applications on non volatile memory systems. She loves to work on systems which impose stringent requirements in terms of software design and coding and call for innovative solutions. She has served on the program and steering committees of several premier systems conferences.

When I was accepted into the WIC accelerator, we had already sold a million-dollar solution.

Once!

Our solution had high development costs and was customized for a single line of business within a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company. I was lucky, I found a visionary who understood the goals of our system based on minimal functionality use cases from other clients. He “got it” verbally and made a case for it internally. That year, He spent a large portion of budget and I earned a “Top 25 women entrepreneurs in NJ” award for the system. A year in, the company sold off that line of business and my contact moved in a different direction. Despite quick adoption by a cross functional team, the new division head preferred spreadsheets and working harder, not smarter. We achieved sales sustaining the status quo for the next two years.

Things had to change, my partner and I made a significant decision for 2020: we would walk away from our current client base to re-imagine our system. We would start from the ground up and find a way to turn clinical data into action with a multi-tenant solution that streamlines drug development for all the pharma companies. Reframing the system in this way would allow us to impact more scientific innovations that improve patient outcomes. We had enough money set aside to spend some time thinking, an absolute luxury for a bootstrapped entrepreneur.

A few days into January, I sat at my computer and I started searching.. what do we do? who could help us? I stared into the empty darkness of the internet with zero answers or even so much as a direction, I honestly didn’t know where to start. By simple chance, I came across a TED talk by this woman Chaitra Vedullapalli. Who was this woman and is she real when she talks about collective action and access for women? Here I am a woman who had sold a million-dollar solution but didn’t know how to take the next step and not quite feeling like there was much help out there, especially in pharma. Chaitra’s TED talk led me to Women in Cloud, and I noticed the annual summit was two weeks later! I did research and simmered on it for a day. It wouldn’t stop poking at me…. I just knew- absolutely knew I had to go, despite the fact I am the scientific side of the business and my male partner leads the technology. I wasn’t sure what “right” I had going to a technology summit at the corporate headquarters of Microsoft. However, my partner was supportive. Lesson 1: Never ignore your intuition! When I was (much) younger in corporate, I was on a VP track and had a boss who didn’t promote me because “I do all the right things successfully, but I can’t always explain why I do them”. I joked with him that I had women’s intuition. He told me that doesn’t fly in business, and my comment confirmed his lack of promotion (oddly my male equivalent got that promotion). Today, I am a strong believer that intuition is usually right- follow it! It stimulated a million-dollar sale and brought me to my first Women in Cloud Summit.

Lesson 2: Maximize your opportunities! The week before the summit, I planned. I took the agenda posted from the WIC summit and put a personal calendar together that maximized the day. I planned on attending individual sessions from both the business and leadership tracks- because that is what my company and I personally needed! My partner provided mini-crash courses, so I wasn’t walking into any one session completely unaware. I also reviewed the speakers list and planned who I needed to meet.

Planning ahead for the WIC summit absolutely maximized what I got out of it!  I tool an entire pad full of notes that day! Questions were answered, gaps were filled, and next generation tactics were developed for both my personal direction as a CEO and what we needed to do next for the product.

I positioned myself at tables with the people I most wanted to meet and walked away with new contacts. This was personal growth for me. I’m an introverted scientist at heart. Technology isn’t strong in my wheelhouse and meeting new people is not something that comes naturally. Despite the uphill battles being fought in my mind, I left this summit energized and excited for the business and my role in a way I haven’t been in years! I talked about it for days and let new plans form and churn in my brain.

But surely, this is one of those events that corporations support, get people excited and then back off into their own world. So, I tested my theory: I followed up on LinkedIn with new contacts and people who I heard speak at the summit. I started each note with “I heard you say XYZ at the summit and I learned XYZ.” Every – Single – Person – responded! Powerhouse women – Gavriella Schuster and Gretchen O’Hara from Microsoft, Patty Kuderer- WA State Senator and Gillian Musseig from Outlines Ventures to “name names” all replied with notes of encouragement. I was truly mystified; it is unrealistic to have such support from the industry I grew up in. Maybe this woman Chaitra is real, and this was not just a one-day of collective action. Maybe this group of women and their allies are truly different. Intuition poked at me again, but this time supported with experience-based evidence. I applied for – and was accepted into the Women in Cloud Accelerator Cohort 3.0!

On your mark, get set…. COVID! While all this momentum, excitement and planning was underway to start the WIC cohort 3.0, COVID-19 comes to America and hits the NYC and Seattle area hard! The opportunity for facetime with important, game-changing women was monumental then the news arrives that I will be part of the first digital cohort.

Lesson 3: Be Flexible and Reset the Course! While I was disappointed for the change to a digital accelerator, I certainly understood and agreed with the format given the state of the world. I’m still a scientist first, and after attending an international call of virologists around the world, I was thankful for the decision. We likely have more time to work within the accelerator and connect more frequently. When the contacts became weekly, this is when the value of the accelerator set in. Highlighting and solving problems as a team eventually became more natural. If we hadn’t been flexible, it is unlikely the accelerator would have even got off the ground by the summer. Resetting the course was an entirely different challenge. WIC itself had to take a live course and make it digital, which seemed like it hardly took any time, but I am sure it took much effort. Our business had to reset a course too. Our system focuses on emerging diseases, which are scientifically complicated, have a multitude of new therapies-in-development, and affect large patient populations with significant unmet medical needs. Before the accelerator, there were ten different diseases that qualified for this category and we were considering for our launch on Azure. However, we quickly reset the course to focus on COVID-19 as the first emerging disease within our solution, The Scientific Data Engine (SDE). To help with this pandemic, we need answers, therapies vaccines etc. Our system expedites development of these scientific innovations. We had to reset our course without doubt.

Lesson 4: Go Through the Steps of the Accelerator! As entrepreneurs, we are naturally geared to go-go-go and make it happen. Immediately, I followed my own lesson to be flexible and reset the course of our focus to be on COVID, so surely Microsoft will understand that our solution can help solve the problem and save lives during this awful pandemic…. Someone must want to talk to me, before the accelerator even starts-so let me reach out to some of those contacts I made earlier. Somewhat laughable now, but one of the earlier accelerator meetings Chaitra asked us not to reach out, that we are better collectively and if we try to do this alone, we will fail. Not only did this fail, which was at first frustrating, but I am now glad it failed- rephrased I had the opportunity to learn and fine-tune my business to be more enterprise ready.  Had I “sprang” earlier, I really think my business would have been set on a backwards course. The remaining lessons in this blog are hopefully part of the fine-tuning that not only makes our company enterprise ready- but also forward facing and more importantly, “sticky!”

Lesson 5: Challenge Your Current Knowledge Base with A New Lens: I’ve had a vision for a while that patient care could be optimized if everyone in healthcare just worked together. Instead, we have these silos with individual agendas which works but never excels. For more than a while, I have wanted to find a way to make my vision come to life. One of the first exercises we had to accomplish in the accelerator was to develop our business model. Ok, easy-peasy, I have one already! But when I tried to fit it into the homework sheet, it wouldn’t fit! It was wrong- terribly wrong! I spent weeks on this. I played with a couple of key changes to make my vision come to life. I worked hard. Then it came, my “in the shower” moment (you know those times when you aren’t thinking about the problem but the answer just appears) except I was at the end of online yoga class meditating in Savasana (corpse pose) my mind was empty and there it was- the hidden revenue model that meets the needs and unifies the critical stakeholders responsible for developing, implementing and guiding patient treatment. If you told me that I was going to spend the first few weeks of the accelerator working on a business model, I likely wouldn’t have joined- you know, because I had one. But seeing how it didn’t fit into an enterprise ready model allowed me to challenge what I thought I knew with a new lens.

Lesson 5: Learn How to Properly Boil the Ocean: Some of these “lessons” are actually best practices I’ve used prior to WIC and hope they hold some value for others reading this. Boiling the ocean however is a blatant and hard lesson I am learning at WIC. I owe this phrase to my mentor Chaitra. The first time she said “stop trying to boil the ocean” to me, I hesitated but didn’t really think much about it. C’mon, she didn’t mean me- I can handle A LOT. The second time I heard Chaitra say it to another cohort member, I thought to myself “yeah she is trying to do too much at once, it won’t stick” BUT…..The third time it was said to me I stopped in my tracks and I got it. She wasn’t telling me I couldn’t handle it, she was politely telling me that I was trying to implement a 5-year business plan in 6 months, and it won’t stick like that. Yes, I can handle a lot, but moving my business forward isn’t about what I can do- it’s about how much the world can take. My solution plus this amazing business model inspired during the accelerator requires changing the status quo and shaking up the way “things are done” in healthcare. Change often brings resistance and it will simple take time for it to be “sticky”- even if the solution is obviously needed right now! No change of this magnitude happened overnight. I need to break down my solution into manageable pots of water that together comprise the entire ocean and serve it over time in manageable components that foster real change. If I don’t, my solution will never work… or it will work but it won’t stick (which is what I now believe happened a few years ago)! Being sticky is like boiling the ocean, it is impossible, but boiling the water one pot at a time is the way lifechanging solutions come to life. I’m halfway thru the accelerator at this point in time…this is the biggest lesson I’ve learned and the biggest challenge I am working to address!

To be continued………….

About the Author – Donna Conroy

Donna founded SciMar ONE in 2003 with the objective of translating complicated Science to the healthcare Market. Under her leadership throughout the years, multiple challenged pharmaceutical products were transformed into viable and profitable therapies in competitive markets.  Donna’s long-term vision is to replace patient & caregiver fears and confusion with improved industry wide education for informed healthcare decision-making. Today, SciMar strives to disrupt the healthcare industry by unifying stakeholders thru a platform that standardizes medical knowledge with AI supporting this critical transformation in the patient experience. Donna believes that travel brings empathy and understanding to everyday life and enjoys trips with her husband and four children. Personal enjoyment is found in daily yoga, stand-up paddleboarding, skiing, and food and wine (science experiments one can eat)!

Women in Cloud’s #CloudExecConnect is here to brighten your summer! #CloudExecConnect solves a specific need within the community to stimulate cross-pollination and bi-directional conversation that can make a meaningful difference in whether or not these businesses are able to succeed.

The two-day event is a curated virtual experience which will let you connect with industry leaders from Microsoft and tech giants. The #CloudExecConnect consists of two different events #CloudEnterpriseConnect and #FemaleCloudFoundersBrunch.

#CloudEnterpriseConnect will take place on 20 July, 2020. It is a four-hour event with meetings with tech buyers and providers together with a high likelihood to book real business with each other through pre-arranged face-to-face meetings via a digital platform. 

Our speakers for this event are: 

#CloudEnterpriseConnect is a perfect opportunity for entrepreneurs to meet and connect with procurement officers, executives, collaborators and industry leaders. Since this is a highly curated event, it is an invite-only experience, so please apply here and await your invitations.

The second event, #FemaleCloudFoundersBrunch is a mid-day event on 21 July, 2020. This virtual brunch is created to help create access for female tech entrepreneurs. The two-hour session will host a power panel on the topic, “Accessing Customers with Digital Marketing Excellence.” This brunch is hosting speakers like: 

At #CloudExecConnect is a great opportunity to connect, engage and grow your knowledge and scale your business with the right people supporting you along the way. We are so excited to bring this opportunity to our community through #CloudExecConnect. We are also thankful to our sponsors Microsoft, M12 – Microsoft’s Venture Fund, Meylah, AppFusions, Qumulo, Founders Live, Alley, Ideagen, EQUALS, New Tech, The Meeting Pool, CSS, Black Girl Venture, Microsoft Alumni Network, WIT Network, Unreasonable, UN Women, and Dell’s Women Entrepreneur Network for their constant support to our efforts. Click here to learn how you can partner with us on #CloudExecConnect!


For more information on #CloudExecConnect, visit www.womenincloud.com/cloudexecconnect  

Women in Cloud, is pleased to announce B’zT as the winner for the #CloudInnovateHERxDigital Pitch Challenge. This pitch challenge was designed to showcase enterprise solutions developed by women tech entrepreneurs. 

Women in Cloud is a community-led economic development initiative taking action to accelerate massive societal impact at an unprecedented pace. We are going to generate over $1B in net new global economic access for women entrepreneurs by 2030 through partnerships with corporations, community leaders, and policymakers. 

About B’zT

By wearing B’zT clothing, parents and teachers can be alerted via smartphone when their children wander beyond a pre-set distance (25-30 Feet) in crowded places such as shopping malls, theme parks, large parties and picnics. It is especially beneficial for teachers who have special needs children that are prone to running away unexpectedly.

Women in Cloud’s programs are designed to help female tech entrepreneurs to win enterprise opportunities, get access to cloud credits, get access to subject-matter experts & executives, a global network with the ultimate goal of creating economic growth and job opportunities that are aligned with the UN goals.

This experience was supported by industry leaders like The event is supported by Microsoft, International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners, M12 – Microsoft’s Venture Fund, EQUALS Global Partnership, Founders LIVE, Verbinden, Alley, New Tech Northwest, AirMeet, Speaker Engage, Headstart Network, and Meylah, who are also core contributors to creating access to enterprise business opportunities to more female tech entrepreneurs. We received many inspiring and innovative solution nominations.  Solutions were evaluated for originality, market feasibility, and use of Cloud and AI solutions. 

Although #CloudInnovateHERxDigital Pitch Challenge has concluded, the voting People’s Choice Award will remain open until 8 May, 2020. So please look at the line-up and tell us what solution you think needs to grab the spotlight.

Please join us on our other exciting campaign, #NominateAnEntrepreneur, where female technology entrepreneurs are celebrated on our network. Also, sign our Pledge by committing to create Economic Access for female technology entrepreneurs in your space. We would like to thank everybody for participating and supporting our mission. For more information about Women in Cloud and the join the Cloud Accelerator.

Over the course of my career I have lived and worked in Europe, Asia and the US as a CEO, a general manager with iconic brand corporations, and served on Boards.  Needless to say, I have taken my fair share of risks over the years.  Currently I am on multiple advisory boards for FinTech and AI early stage growth firms, a venture partner with a Fund focused on women founders in technology, and actively support the missions of Women in Cloud (WiC) and the Athena Alliance. Since I am introducing myself, I will happily add that I am also a wife, mother and grandmother.

If you have read any of my earlier blogs, you know I have shared stories of success and failure along my career journey.  This blog focuses on taking high-risk decisions and highlights some of the lessons I have learned, including ones relevant to our current, unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.  

Takeaways

Despite the cliff-hanging experiences I have previously shared, I continue to take risks. In the dynamic, competitive landscape in which we operate, we need to exploit opportunities and rapidly confront threats. I must admit, the decisions related to this pandemic crisis are extraordinary, such as how long to “lock down,” whether it is possible to hold onto jobs, what benefits to provide employees or not, how to handle contract workers, when to re-open work and participate in the community… 

These are some of the questions I explore when taking a typical, non-life threatening, risk.  Yet, as I think about these questions, I realize they are crisis relevant also.

  • Is the potential reward worth the risk?
  • Do we understand the opportunity and/or the impacts of our decision?
  • Do we have a strategy and action plans and back-up contingency plans?
  • Do we have the right team in place and does the team have each other’s back?
  • When things go wrong, is it really time to declare failure or have we just hit the inevitable “messy middles” that one needs to work through? 
  • Are key players (e.g., leadership team, management, direct reports, investors/stakeholders,  Board) really open to a “fail fast” approach or is “success only” the real mandate? 
  • Have I developed a strong bench, so that when I confront an urgent situation and must make an immediate decision and own it, key players will trust my judgement?

These questions vary depending on our current situation, market, industry and options. They change and moreover they can evolve with time. 

Open and Transparent Communications

Despite all efforts, failure or high risk situations can happen. Sometimes due to events out of our control.  Regardless of the reason, open and transparent communications is very often the key to keeping or re-gaining trust and gaining the time needed to turn the situation around and achieve success.  Communications could mean:

  • Keeping the organization updated on the situation, sharing strategy and actions plans, and providing guidance on how to respond to clients and other external queries.
  • Sending communications directly to clients, acknowledging their feedback, and providing assurances that we are working on it and will keep them updated.
  • Providing frequent, on-topic, clear and honest communications to employees through the most commonly used and any new channels.
  • Finding effective ways to get employee and client feedback, and dealing with emotional impacts in addition to the business situation.
  • High visibility and engagement from the top executive leaders is very important, as well as  an effective cascade so more immediate managers can be in alignment with the organization’s philosophy and strategy when talking with their teams.

When taking on a planned high-impact initiative, make the time to gain the buy-in of leadership and key stakeholders.  Determine what are the shared rewards that make the risk worth taking – together.  It is equally critical to have the buy-in and ownership of the working team, whether direct reports, peers or collaborators. This is a continuous process, so if an unexpected crisis happens, there is critical support on which one can rely.  

Accountability 

Success (or surviving failure) involves:

  • Keeping the team continuously engaged, listening to them even if their advice will not result in action, and providing recognition; 
  • Engaging and seeking the advice and buy-in of those above and your peers, as well as finding sponsors and advocates;
  • Taking ownership and accountability for one’s decisions!

Taking risks includes accepting the risk of failure. The question is not if, but how one fails. In Harvard Business Review, James W. Harris the CEO of Seneca Financial Group, wrote: “Skipping out on colleagues when things look grim is the most common failing among super-charged executives. Lying about the true condition of a business is another. Failure is no excuse to chuck ethics out the window.”

Owning my failures has been extremely hard, and yet the lessons learned have led to far more success and skills to deal with ambiguity and the unexpected. My greatest personal success is seeing the people who joined me in taking risks and  rose above any failure that may have happened, move on to achieve their own success.

A wise and experienced executive told me at the very start of my career: “Karen, I am confident you will be successful in your career. As you climb up the ladder, just remember to step around people, not on them. You are sure to meet them again on the way down or in different circumstances. You may not understand this now, but you will.” 

It took some time, but I always remembered these words and did, indeed, come to understand them.  When it comes to fighting a crisis like this global pandemic, we clearly must all function together, as one team, up or down the “ladder”.

Karen Cone FORMER CEO, CORPORATE GM, & BOARD DIRECTOR

Karen Cone is the former Microsoft General Manager, Worldwide Financial Services Sector, and CEO and Board Director of the advisory research firm, TowerGroup. She currently serves on multiple advisory boards and is a venture partner for the MastersFund, focused on women founders in technology. Karen has also held senior executive positions with increasing responsibility and scope at IBM, MasterCard and Gartner, where she served on the Gartner International Board. She has lived and worked in the Americas, EMEA & Asia. Karen and her husband, Jeff, have three sons and four grandchildren and currently live in Seattle, Washington.