Childhood Passion for Maps and AI Ignites a Location Intelligence Startup
8/23/2023 10:45:11 AM
Childhood Passion for Maps and AI Ignites a Location Intelligence Startup
With artificial intelligence technology and data-driven insights, Zite AI aims to empower organizations—particularly small businesses—to make informed decisions and optimize their expansion strategies.
By Urvashi Jha
When Joshua Love was a little kid, maps caught his fascination, and he would spend hours browsing through an atlas. Today, as a doctoral candidate specializing in systems engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, he uses his passion for maps to drive his startup venture.
Founded last November, Zite AI is an AI-driven location intelligence startup that is aiming to revolutionize the way businesses expand to new locations.
Joshua’s brother and co-founder, Jacob Love, recently graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in computer science. His passion for all things AI propelled him to explore the limitless applications of artificial intelligence in the real world. Combining their unique talents and shared entrepreneurial spirit, the brothers are now developing tools to help businesses identify the right location for their growth and success.
According to the startup, one million new US and EU customer-facing locations open each year. And 50% of new businesses fail within the first five years. The major cause of failure is missed revenue due to location choice.
With artificial intelligence technology and data-driven insights, Zite AI aims to empower organizations, particularly small businesses, to make informed decisions and optimize their expansion strategies. The advanced algorithms analyze a wide range of data, including demographic information, market trends, competition analysis, and consumer behavior patterns, to help businesses identify the ideal locations for long-term profitability.
Joshua says, “Artificial intelligence is central to our company. The product that we are developing only works because of AI. It is using machine learning that we have put together ourselves, and without it I think the quality of assessment would be much worse. Some companies in this sector still employ outdated techniques, and I believe that they need to either adapt or face a gradual decline. Traditional methods can’t encapsulate the range of information needed to provide accurate assessment. We are using AI because it is simply superior to existing methods.”
“Our product can help business owners who are very passionate about their businesses. For instance, a restaurant owner might be making the best food in the world, but they are not necessarily very good at figuring out some of the business aspects of their business. People should chase their dreams and have access to tools to aid them, especially in areas where they lack expertise,” he adds.
Zite AI moved into the EnterpriseWorks incubator at Research Park in March 2023 and recently hired their first employee. The startup won the EnterpriseWorks Incubator affiliate tenancy award at Cozad New Venture Challenge 2023 that enables them to have an office at the incubator for 6 months. The award includes the use of co-working space, access to conference rooms, common areas, support services, and entrepreneur assistance. Zite AI also won $5000 in funding as a fourth-place tie winner in Cozad New Venture Challenge 2023, Technology Entrepreneur Center’s new business creation program.
“The Cozad New Venture Challenge does a lot to educate students about what is important when starting a business, because a lot of people I have spoken with have done things the wrong way when they start. Cozad does an excellent job of educating people on what questions you should be asking and how to get answers to those questions. You need some market validation before you go too far in the development stage of your startup,” says Joshua.
In its nascent stages, Zite AI is actively forging partnerships with municipalities and economic development organizations and developing pilot programs. By aligning their strengths with these local entities, the startup aims to reach small business owners who stand to gain from their innovative technology. “Our collaboration with municipalities and county economic development organizations is symbiotic. They are better positioned to introduce us to small business owners, and we contribute by generating customized maps that unveil the potential success—and potential pitfalls—of various locations.”
Developing a startup? Joshua Love shares insightful tips and lessons learned from his entrepreneurial journey so far.
Advantages of pursuing a startup idea while you are in college: I think one of the biggest advantages is that it is relatively low risk to start a startup in college. If your startup fails while you’re in college, you can still finish your degree and find a job. If your business fails in the real world, you don’t have the safety net in the same way that you have while you are a student. Also, you don’t have access to innumerable university resources. Another enormous benefit is that as a student you can get a lot of software for free or at a discounted rate to build your prototype. Additionally, if you are trying to go to conferences related to your startup, a lot of these conferences offer student rates. Further, when you are trying to connect with people, your odds of connecting with them when you are not a student are much lower.
Entrepreneurship challenges and lessons learned: The biggest challenge is the uncertainty associated with bringing things to market. You may have a great idea, a great product, and solid research to back up the market need, but still have uncertainty about bringing things to market, making it work, finding the connections you need, and getting funding. At any given time, you don’t know what is going to happen next. You just must be okay with it, not knowing what is going to happen in a week or two weeks. Another challenge is when you put in a lot of work early on and you don’t see the desired outcome. You need to understand that it takes time before anything develops. You must push through that phase and get to the point where your product is finally landing in customers’ hands—where customers are liking it and you’re making money. Before that point, there is a lot of work that needs to be done. You just keep your eyes on the prize and keep going.
The biggest entrepreneurship lesson is understanding the importance of networking. You can never network enough. Getting to know people leads to opportunities that you didn’t know existed. Talking to people helps you understand your product and the problem that you are trying to solve better. You might think you understand everything now, but chances are you don’t. Networking is extremely important, and it is never something that you can forget to do.
University resources to utilize to succeed as an entrepreneur: I think that there are several good places on campus and in the community to get started. The Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) exists to help students who are interested in entrepreneurship. TEC helps students connect with resources. The University Library has access to tons of databases that can make doing research much easier and help you understand your market better. You can use research and industry reports that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars. As students move forward with their startup ideas, the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Champaign County is very helpful. Professors and the entrepreneurship community help with subsequent connections. EnterpriseWorks and the Research Park also have a lot of resources.
Measurable progress: Whether it is your marketing strategy or your business plan, you should have a way to measure how well it is going and you should be tracking accomplishments. The other thing I learned is that you should not neglect yourself. In my case, I can work for weeks straight. But, as time passes if I continue to do almost nothing else, the work really starts to get to me. Remember that people can burn out fast, so make sure that you are taking enough time away from the work because it will ultimately make you more efficient at your work.
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This story was published August 23, 2023.