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Last week another intensive bootcamp at Ace Venture Lab came to an end. At the University of Amsterdam’s official startup incubator, ten startups had a chance to pitch their ideas during an exciting demo day. Zazu, an artificial intelligent personal assistant that schedules your meetings by simply adding her e-mail address in the cc-field, took home the first prize.
From idea to startup
Twice a year ACE Venture lab organizes the bootcamp, which is a fully sponsored training program that is open to everybody: students, researchers and industry professionals. The bootcamp offers workshops and mentoring from startup experts that helps startups convert ideas into successful businesses. Lead mentor for this round was Gigi Wang, an industry fellow at UC Berkeley’s Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Board Member & Chair Emeritus of the MITEF / Standford Venture Lab (VLAB).
The startups that presented their ideas and business plans at the demo day were very diverse. There were the typical stuttering students that had trouble getting their unique selling point across, two professors in Molecular Neuroscience that had the key to better medicine for Parkinson patients and, like always it seems, a startup that developed yet another travel app.
During Zazu’s pitch, it became clear the team was working on something special: an e-mail based on-demand service that operates as your own personal assistant. No apps or plugins are needed: the user simply adds Zazu in the cc field of their e-mail program when a meeting is being scheduled. Through AI and machine learning, Zazu takes care of the rest and informs you where you need to be, and when.
Zazu originated during the minor Entrepreneurship at the University of Amsterdam Business School. “As part of this minor we had five months to set up our own business,” says Megan van Doorn, commercial director of the company. “We felt that the products already offered on the market did not satisfy the needs of scheduling meetings. We wanted to create a product that is fully automated and takes over the hassle that is involved when setting up a meeting. “
Zazu doesn’t need an app or plug in and is completely platform free. According to van Doorn, people are getting tired of having to download an app for everything. “There are countless app’s these days, and people are obliged to download numerous applications on their phone, tablet and so on. The beauty of our product is; it’s no app, no web service, and no download. It integrates on the system that you are already using and familiar with, making it convenient to implement the product for the user. You only need to register and we take over the rest. In addition to this, it is easily usable for anyone and anywhere, since you just e-mail like you normally would.”
Working through the cc field of an e-mail program proved to be a difficult task for the team, but the real difficulty lies in the AI-aspect of the system. “It is a very complex problem and needs a lot of research and data along with competent algorithms. Artificial intelligence is a new understanding, there are countless new developments in the sector that we want to incorporate. We are ought to work very accurately to ensure a safe and optimal working product by merging these new techniques.”
Zazu is currently in the process of developing the AI-based personal assistant. The coming year they will fully focus on the development of the product and growing the business. Van Doorn: “We want to launch our product in the market and collaborate with big partners to stimulate this growth. In a year’s time we want our product to be fully operational and be able to serve our first target group.”