MBA Program: University of Chicago, Booth School of Business
Founding Student Names: Ben Ziomek, Sonny Tai
Brief Description of Solution: Aegis builds computer vision artificial intelligence software that turns any security camera into a gun-detecting smart camera, enabling real-time responses to gun violence—without invading privacy.
Funding Dollars: $2.2M from top San Francisco and Chicago-based VCs including Bling Capital, Upside Partnership, and Tensility.
What led you to launch this venture? My goal is to make the world a safer place while also helping businesses and society adopt AI and minimizing the negative impact of automation. Before leaving Microsoft to pursue my MBA and interest in startups, I built one of the first AI-powered sales motion in the Fortune 500, which reached over $100M in annual revenue by partnering with salespeople, rather than displacing them. Aegis is the continuation of this drive: I’m applying similar technology to what I used at Microsoft to make the world a safer place by collaborating with security professionals to allow them to react faster to threats. I partnered with my Co-Founder Sonny Tai, a Booth 2015 grad and ex-Marine because his vision of making the world a safer place aligns with my experiences growing up under Marine protection as the son of US diplomats abroad. Plus, it’s a lot more exciting than selling Windows.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with your venture? I’m proud of how far we’ve come in building out our gun-detection technology and getting it in customers’ hands. The system works well: In over 50 live customer tests we have a 100% success rate in detecting weapons, with less than one false positive per customer per month. The system is running on hundreds of customer cameras at schools, power plants, entertainment venues, and offices. Aegis protects more than 5,000 people by allowing offices and schools to detect weapons immediately when they’re brandished and tracking perpetrators. It also guards hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of property and equipment by detecting unauthorized access. I designed the system to make it as easy as possible to adopt AI for security: We use existing security cameras, minimizing the cost of installing the technology, and we only detect weapons, not people, eliminating privacy and compliance barriers to installation, as well as many concerns around intrusive surveillance.
How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? Booth allowed me to expand my experience working with startups at Microsoft to sit on both sides of the table. I spent the first year of my MBA working part-time in venture capital, giving me a great perspective on how investors evaluate startups. Then in my second year, I transitioned to working on Aegis, giving me practical experience both investing in startups and seeking investment that allowed me to close a seed round before I completed my MBA.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Two experiences were most important to me: My great grandfather and the many great entrepreneurs I got to work with while I was at Microsoft. My great grandfather founded and ran a large paper company in California in the 1960s, and my family has always said they hope I follow in his footsteps as an entrepreneur. Also, while I was at Microsoft, I got to work with dozens of startups, helping them find the resources they needed to get to the next level. Working with so many early-stage companies made me catch the founder bug, and I knew that identifying either a venture capital or startup opportunity to pursue after business school was my goal.
Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? I focused in data science and entrepreneurship at Booth, so almost all my classes were extremely relevant to starting an AI company! That said, the stand-out here was Booth’s VC Lab, which took my experience working at a VC during my MBA and wrapped a class around it. I still use some of the materials from that class, including cap tables and board deck templates. All in all, that course gave me a strong understanding of baseline expectations for raising capital, which has been invaluable at Aegis.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? We are currently laser-focused on raising a Series A round of financing in 2020. As an early-stage company, we could do a lot of different things with Aegis after that, including continuing to raise venture capital or trying to build an independent business. We’ll take the route that allows us to protect as many people as possible with the Aegis system.