Circular Board, Inc. DBA: Alice
AI-powered platform democratizing access to entrepreneurial resources created as a direct solution to empower minorities in business
Pitch us on your solution
The share of female owned businesses around the world is minuscule, and the same story rings true for veterans, the LGBTQA+ community, people with disabilities, and historically underrepresented groups everywhere. The lack of connectivity to informational, educational, and economic resources further denies these marginalized groups any access to capital or a network, amounting to an estimated $12 trillion loss to the world’s annual GDP. We launched Alice, an AI-powered platform, to flip this statistic and integrate the “New Majority” from all industries and from all backgrounds into the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Since our founding we currently support over 160,000 business owners through all of our channels. This means transforming the lives of worldwide entrepreneurs, especially women who are more likely to build socially impactful business and invest up to 90% of their income back into their communities. Alice provides economic inclusion and curates an equitable platform for founders to thrive.
What is the problem you are solving?
In the United States alone, 543,000 new businesses launch every month. 40% of these companies are started by women; however, their failure rate continues to be disproportionately higher than their male counterparts, with only 2% making over $1mm. The share of female owned businesses in developing countries is even scarcer. Through data, we have found that the same story rings true for veterans, the LGBTQA+ community, people with disabilities, and historically underrepresented groups everywhere. This disproportionate gap is reinforced by a lack of political and economic support from leaders, social norms about what a business owner is supposed to look like, and numerous barriers to entrepreneurial resources.The lack of connectivity to informational, educational, social and economic business resources further denies underrepresented groups access to capital or a network. By ignoring, and actually widening, this gap within business, the entire world is missing out on an estimated $12 trillion to annual GDP. Institutions are not yet doing enough to create an equitable space for women, people of color, and disconnected communities to succeed in business. At Alice we welcome these groups with supportive, open arms. We believe who you know and where you live shouldn’t determine the success of your company.
Who are you serving?
Open to all entrepreneurs, Alice targets early-stage women, underrepresented founders, veterans and historically underserved populations. We call this group the “New Majority,” as the next census will show that these groups are the majority of business owners. Alice works with partners, such as the Kauffman and Case Foundation, whose core missions are to empower entrepreneurs through education. Alice has conducted in-depth research to understand the various landscapes of our users. By focusing on a thorough set of diverse user personas, we are able to ground ourselves in our target populations. We refer back to these personas with every decision we make. Additionally, Alice’s artificial intelligence uses the information from user on-boarding to tailor resources to the user’s specific needs. Questions about their location, clientele, and goals help provide more tailored resources for the specific user. We know the resources an African American woman in the fin-tech field living in Detroit will differ greatly with the veteran plumber living in Indiana. So we customize their user experience, putting them on their own individual paths to success. Our team is a voice for our users: whether it be understanding what resources people with disabilities want or highlighting courses for women of color.
What is your solution?
Alice is an artificial intelligence platform, connecting with thousands of entrepreneurs daily from six of the seven continents. Alice is accelerating business growth by recommending content, tools, experts, communities, events and opportunities to founders based on their unique company profiles. Alice uses machine learning to predict business pain points of founders: we get specific with their location, basic demographics, stage of growth, and industry to recommend the most relevant resources for them. On the back end, Alice gains extensive knowledge about the groups we serve: through a swift on-boarding process, Alice users give us 50 data points. By 2020, we will obtain 1000 data points per user to better understand our audience and identify the gaps we need to fill.
While Alice is open to all entrepreneurs, as a social enterprise we have pledged that 75% of our users, who we call owners, will be a minority business group. We are proud to support women, those with military affiliation, people with disabilities the LGBTQA+ community and many members of the “New-Majority” with specific resources, tagging them with meta-data on the back end. Alice frequently hosts Q&A webinars, virtual fireside chats, and spotlight blog posts to highlight this founder demographic.
Forbes calls the platform “The Siri for Entrepreneurs,” the idea being, that at any moment, you can ask Alice your pressing business questions and receive an instant and relevant response. Through Alice, an entrepreneur can identify the right branding agency for their business and budget, find investors willing to back their company, learn about corporate contract opportunities they qualify for, and many more examples. Our website features interactive Communities that users can join to collaborate with other founders; maps of global Ecosystems which filters entrepreneurial resources based on location in real-time; and later this summer, Guides, to track founders’ progress through virtual courses. Alice has a full time team and Ambassadors dedicated to updating these resources for our specific geographic and demographic users. Our goal is to become a “one-stop-shop” for small business owners to set up their businesses: not only will you be able to find resources and connect with founders, but also conduct your marketing, hire and pay your employees, and update your balance sheets; all on HelloAlice.com.
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Where is your solution team headquartered?San Francisco, CA, USA
Our solution's stage of development:
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Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Alice is the first ever artificial intelligence software that is coded for the “New Majority” demographic of founders.. The product was the top IP announcement at the United State’s second largest tech conference: Dell EMC World in Las Vegas. From the code, to the design element, our team engaged in thousands of hours of user research, testing, data aggregation and extreme ingenuity to build the product. Alice is highly innovative, and has found a way to serve entrepreneurs with their greatest pain point (finding the personalized guidance they need to grow) through a sustainable and rapid-growth business model, without charging this price-sensitive audience. The personalization aspect of Alice utilizes machine learning, creating a sticky user interface that helps founders through every stage of business. We have created a model that supports, versus competes, with others active organizations in our landscape, pulling women into existing ecosystems versus putting them in their own silo. We named our product Alice, from the character in Alice in Wonderland, as she is creative, smart and had the ability to get anywhere she wanted no matter the barrier. Alice proves that we can bring the “New Majority” into the game and create economic prosperity, while disrupting our current entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.
As an artificial intelligence and machine learning platform, Alice is able to curate specific and relevant information for each individual user. Through an engaging and swift on-boarding process, where we ask questions about your industry and experiences, we gain 50 data points about a founder’s demographics and goals. By 2020, Alice will collect 1000 data points per user. Alice collates this data to be shared with socially conscious companies interested in learning about “New Majority” founders in certain areas. Alice does not violate the privacy of our users in sharing this specific information, but instead uses “balloons” of more general data. Internally, by collecting this data, we are able to better understand our target audience and provide more appropriate assistance throughout their founding journey. Alice is striving to become a “one-stop-shop” for business owners, providing them with one space to conduct necessary activities including marketing, and hiring and paying of employees, for example.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
Alice embodies the Theory of Change and addresses the Community Driven Innovation Challenge. Day-to-day, Alice connects entrepreneurs with curated resources, tools, communities and opportunities to help their business grow. For example, Suzie spends a week on Alice to learn how to create a basic marketing plan for her bakery. In the medium run, she is able to expand her customer base, establish brand loyalty and generate more revenue. In the long run, she mentors her employees and her bakery becomes a hub that strengthens community. This is just one example of how Alice directs curious founders towards achieving their goals and the economy’s goals. Specifically, when people, especially women, succeed, they give back to their community, participating in critical services such as infrastructure. The data points we collect every day show trends in specific markets. Alice can hold institutions accountable by providing data about gaps in industries and how business can fill them with their diversity and inclusion initiatives. We know what female founders, veterans and marginalised groups want in business, and it’s up to us to share these on a global scale. Overall, Alice’s vision is to redefine the entrepreneurial playing field: our equitable pipelines and campaigns, and tailored, well-researched resources ensure that all citizens are able to access our information and feel included.
Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
Current: over 170,000 through all of our channels
1 year: 795,000
5 years: 6 million +
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Alice’s goals are related to user acquisition and retention. We want to show the world that there is no typical business owner. Your location and network should not determine the success of your business.
Through our business guides (rolling out this month) we will be able to guide small business owners through a pain point. Have questions on how to create a pitch deck? The Alice guide will give you step by step instructions to make one.
Small business owners are writing dozens of individual checks a month -- payroll, wifi, HR etc -- this takes an absorbent amount of time. In five years, Alice will be home to a single point of checkout, so monthly, business owners only have to go to one place to pay their expenses.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
Through numerous pitches we have found that people are scared to back the “new majority.” They are more comfortable putting money behind a few wild unicorn ideas that could one day be the next Uber. When in fact there are over 500,000 small businesses launching a month in the United States. People should see this as an opportunity for immense financial gain, not a barrier.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
We are championing the New Majority of business owners to end the stigma that their businesses are unworthy of VC money. Currently less than 2% goes to this group. We are highlighting these business owners and equipping them with the tools, networks and resources they need to be successful.
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How many people work on your solution team?
12 full time employees. We also contract a handful of people and bring on an incredible group of interns each semester.
12 full time employees
10 part time interns
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
2 years (Launched May 9, 2017)
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
Every superhero needs a sidekick. Alice is the advisor, cheerleader and mentor to help business owners every step of the way. Why, you ask? Founders Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore are seasoned entrepreneurs who know the obstacles many women face in the business world. The entire Alice team has experienced these barriers in one way or another, whether related to age, gender, race or physical disability With a diverse, experienced and empathetic team, we are actually taking action against this marginalization with Alice.
What is your business model?
We have discovered that our data is a coveted and unique set of information sought after by enterprise companies, foundations and governments, and have seen faster-than-expected monetization from this area. As a result, we have diligently been narrowing our teams to entirely focus upon building and monetizing the largest data set regarding the new majority of SMB owners. Our mission at Alice is to ensure that the new majority succeeds. Our view is that a real-time data set on this group will encourage corporations to market/sell/create products for this group. It will help governments set correct policies for them, and educate foundations on where to put their impact investments. Enterprise companies in the US alone spend over $10 billion a year on purchasing data regarding SMBs. This data drives 12% of annual corporate marketing budget utilized to drive sales to SMB owners. Additionally, government entities such as City Councils, State Economic Boards and federal departments such as the SBA, NSF, Commerce and Labor are buying data to influence their decision making. Alice is unique in its infrastructure to collect thousands of small business data points. Outside of SMB product and service offerings (Shopify, MasterCard, etc.), the only competing data set to Alice is the US Census, gathered in 2010. Additionally, due to our unique mission to support the new majority, we also acquire data on gender, ethnicity, LGBTQA+, disability status, Veteran status and other critical information about the owners that influence their buying patterns, extended learning and engagement.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
Alice is a double sided marketplace. New Majority small business owners don’t have extra money to spend on multiple services. Because of that we decided early on not to charge our users. Instead we partner with enterprise companies and governments who have their communities on our platform. They pay for access to data. Never personal data but rather balloons of data. For example, we have partnered with Bumble to run the application for the Bumble Fund. They can see the stage of growth of those who applied and the industry they are, for example.
Why are you applying to Solve?
Alice is applying to Solve because we are a unique, innovative program wanting to expand our technological footprint. Our goals of further developing our machine learning would be accelerated through funding and additional mentorship from MIT’s professionals: we’d like help on how to fully utilize and improve our machine learning processes. As examples, we want to know what we can insinuate from our current data, how personalized we can get, and how AI can run a business alongside a founder - we are excited to work with MIT experts to discover the answers. Up until now, Alice has not conducted any paid marketing campaigns. Our 170,000 business touch points are referred to our channels through our partners, by word of mouth and social media. With the grant, Alice could acquire even more users by reaching specific demographics through advertising. Through these expansions, Alice would establish a stronger sense of credibility, improving our relationships with partners and giving us the funds to establish even more.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
We are excited to expand our corporate partners. We are also bolstering a strong network of city governments. Every small business must register with the city. We are working to make Alice the source for business information.