As the first private company to receive non-equity investment from Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures organization — which Access recently featured along with an interview with Gates — Alice got an instant dose of street cred. “Being her [Gates’] first portfolio investment, Pivotal Ventures is showing that investing in women provides a great return on your money,” says Elizabeth Gore, Alice’s president and chairwoman. “It showed other investors the rigor that we went through, and it helped legitimize what we’re doing for the new majority of business owners.”
This new majority of business owners, as Gore says, is at the heart of Alice, aka HelloAlice.com, a free artificial intelligence (AI)-powered platform that helps underrepresented entrepreneurs — including women, people of color, veterans and members of the LGBTQ community — make connections to bring their innovations to life. Access met with Gore to learn more.
Give us the gist of what Alice does.
Alice has a very simple mission to help small-business owners launch and grow. And we really focus on the new majority of business owners who, combined, will be the largest population of folks launching businesses, from people of color to folks in smaller towns.
How exactly does Alice do that?
We pull owners through the right path to grow their business at the right time. So, we look at your stage of growth, industry, physical location, but also your gender, your ethnicity, whether you’re a veteran — because all of those things matter as you look for the right resources, the right networks, the right support and the right capital for your business.
And you do it using AI, right?
Yes, we’re built on top of machine learning — an AI platform — that we’ve built over the last five years. We’ve mined every opportunity, every piece of content, newsfeed, government program, network — 20,000-plus pieces a day. We utilize that information so that what pops up for you as an owner is incredibly relevant to your business, your location and you as an individual.
What’s really exciting is that Alice gets smarter as the years go on and as owners tell us what’s working and what’s not working. And she’s very data-centric, so we’re building the largest database for small and medium-sized businesses in the world, which is very exciting. And the reason that’s important is that it allows us to get better at what owners need based on the data we’re seeing on what helps them succeed or what helps them get over specific barriers.
What’s really exciting is that Alice gets smarter as the years go on and as owners tell us what’s working and what’s not working.
Paint a picture of how it works.
For a bakery to launch a business, for example, is very different than a fintech [financial technology] company. And launching a business in Detroit is very different than in Memphis. So, a business owner can say, “I’m an African-American woman, and I’d like to meet other African-American women in business. What’s the best way to do that?” And on the flip side, Alice will pop up and say, “Hey, you’re in Memphis and you have a fintech business and you’re a minority woman. Did you know that the city government is doing equity feed grants to businesses to help them get off the ground?”
Those are the types of things that businesses are so primed for but that, unless you’re fully connected, are hard to find. So, we make it as simple as possible, because every single owner — I don’t care what business or what state of growth — always says that they don’t have enough time or enough capital.
Let’s end with a question you’ve probably answered a thousand times. What’s behind the name Alice?
When my co-founder [Carolyn Rodz] and I were launching Alice, we both also were pregnant. Between the both of us, we had four kids — two kids each. And Alice. So, five kids, we joked. And both of us really loved the original Lewis Carroll story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And if you read the story, Alice is a character, and she reminded us of a business owner. She goes through so much. She has to convince people to let her do things; she has to sell things. We talk about the white rabbit as “profit,” so she’s always chasing the profit. We just really liked the whole notion of Alice as the spirit and the personality of our business owners.