Rising Star | Anita Schjøll Brede, Iris AI

LA Report: Why did you set up your company?

We were challenged to do so during our participation in the Global Solutions Program 2015 at Singularity University at NASA Ames Research Park in California. It naturally evolved from there.


LA Report: When did you set up your business, and how long did it take?

The team was formed and the idea was born in the span of 4 weeks during August 2015. When we returned back to Europe after Singularity, it took a few months before we actually incorporated the organization; partly because we waited to confirm our founding CTO, and partly because we were deciding which country to actually register in.


LA Report: Did you have a ‘lightbulb moment’ (ie. which led to you starting your business, or which triggered a change in the way you did things)?

We’ve probably had hundreds. Some prove to be right, some prove to be wrong. Ideas are worthless until you validate them with customers, evaluate the technology, identify what others have done before, and then go build it and see how it plays out. That is, actually doing the work. Without hard work, the lightbulb moments come and go.


LA Report: What education or training did you have?

It’s such an unusual mix. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre. I started my first company when I was 20. Iris AI is my 4th startup, so by know I know quite a bit about what (not) to do. I have been in 9 different industries and attended 6 universities. I worked in a startup in Silicon Valley for a couple of years. And I got a Master of Science in Entrepreneurship and Business Design.


LA Report: Where did you source funding to set up your business?

We bootstrapped entirely the first six months. Then our CTO got a small amount from Almi in Sweden, after that we got a private angel on board, then 500 Startups invested. We also then got some public financing from Innovation Norway. Now we’ve been raising a round from multiple angels, wrapping it up at the end of May. We’ve also applied for some EU SME funding.


LA Report: Were there any EU, national, regional or local business support services, programmes or funding initiatives that helped you set up or grow?

We’ve received some good help from Innovation Norway and Almi, in the shape of both advice and money. Being involved with Ideas from Europe also offered some great visibility and connections, not to mention the opportunity to do a TEDx talk about our big vision!


LA Report: With hindsight, which would have been the single most valuable skill to have before setting up your business?

This is not my first time doing it, so I knew a lot more this time. However, the level of attention I’ve personally received have been at a whole new level, and right now I’m trying to find the balance between visibility that’s good for me and the company – and visibility that takes away from my ability to do real work.


LA Report: Do you have a mentor?

I do have people in my life I can ask for help from on a more personal level, and there’s been a lot of people in my career with more experience that I’ve learned a lot from – but I’ve never had a defined mentorship.


LA Report: Who is your greatest role model or inspiration?

Amanda Palmer, Sheryl Sandberg and Cindy Gallop are three badass, powerful women that inspire me a lot, for a number of different reasons. I deliberately set out to find inspiring female role models a few years ago, and these were three people that surfaced.


LA Report: What is the USP that distinguishes your product or service from its competitors?

Our tool is built for entrepreneurs and innovators – people who put research into practice –and we are building a tool directly to these end users, rather than building an engine for licensing. Also, our free tool and AI Training community allows us to reach out to a lot more people than our competitors.


LA Report: How does your company impact people’s lives for the better?

We believe that as a human species, we’ve already discovered the solutions to most of our pressing problems. If we can connect the dots of the massive amounts of scientific research out there, we are sure we will find them. Whether we’ll enable someone to find the cure for cancer or climate change – that’s of course too early to say, but that is the moonshot we’re working towards.


LA Report: How would you describe your progress so far? Are there any significant challenges you have had to overcome?

We’ve had an incredible amount of progress the first nine months of our existence. If we continue with this speed, we’ll make it incredibly far the next few years. And as for the challenges, they’re what every startup experience. Twisting your business model. A couple of pivots. Pitching to a seeming endless row of people with money. Hearing a lot of ‘no’. Having people tell you what you do won’t work. Having people tell you you’re not fundable. Then going out and proving them all wrong.


LA Report: How are you planning to grow your business?

We are working with a select group of corporations (R&D/innovation departments) and tech entrepreneurs for a pilot program this fall. We need to make sure the tool we’re building is solving their problems spot on. If you have a great product/market fit, most other things will fall into place. Not by themselves, but with hard work.


LA Report: If you were in charge of the government ministry for SMEs and start-ups, what would be the three most important changes you would make to help them grow?

Tax breaks, supportive employment laws, simpler paperwork and easier visa processes for foreign workers.


LA Report: The best thing about being an entrepreneur is…?

The craziness and the freedom.


LA Report: What do you see as the key trends/disruptors for 2016 relevant to entrepreneurs?

Oh there’s so much! Artificial Intelligence is of course the first that comes to mind. But the VR revolution is also coming, providing a lot of super cool opportunities. I’d also love to be working in genomics right now, or perhaps with 3D printing. There’s just so much enabling technology where prices are dropping radically now – so the question becomes: how can you apply these to the real problems of the world to actually solve those same problems?


LA Report: If you could go back to when you were about to start your company and give yourself a single message or piece of advice, what would it be?

I’d actually rather make a longer jump back, to when I was 20 and started my first company. I had no idea what I was doing and was absolutely lost. I’d give myself a big smile, two thumbs up and tell myself “Hey kid, you’ve got this. One thing at a time, don’t do the same mistake twice, and enjoy the ride!”