Nitesh Agrawal


Why Non-Tech Founders are Thriving at Amazon’s Alexa Accelerator

Doing good in the world — and doing well financially

For the bulk of human existence, innovation has occurred when a problem becomes so dire that it demands a solution. Long before we had accelerators, product ninjas, and tech gurus, we had people doing everyday things, running into everyday problems, and finding ingenious ways to solve those problems.

The Chinese didn’t invent the compass to get rich; they wanted a more reliable way to navigate. Alexander Fleming had every right to hold his patent to Penicillin and become insanely wealthy, but he instead gave it up to the US and UK governments to save lives during WWII. The list goes on, but what’s recurrent in every tale is that the drive to solve a problem came first, and commercial application came second.

What will be your contribution to the world?

In a world where innovation, technology, and wealth are seemingly inseparable, it’s critical that we don’t start thinking these are linearly dependent. We can develop technology based on an idea, existing technology can spur further creativity, and new ideas can be instant financial juggernauts or slow-burning fires.

The relationship between tech innovators and non-tech founders is indeed symbiotic. While non-tech founders may have a brilliant idea, if they’re not abreast of what new possibilities tech breakthroughs can bring, their idea may never come to fruition. Similarly, non-tech founders are always pushing developers to imagine new possibilities.

Non-tech founders are driving development of new technologies

Tomorrow’s great founders and CEOs are today’s field-specific experts. Lawyers who encounter cumbersome copyright management practices are turning to blockchain developers for smart contracts. Utilities are looking for more efficient ways to monitor the health of substations, and are spurring innovation in smart grid technologies. The examples are endless.

Let’s look at a specific one, though, from the recent Amazon Alexa Accelerator Demo Night. Many of the pitches were based on Amazon’s AI and voice recognition technology Alexa, but were meant to address previously unsolved problems.

Such was the case for Voiceitt, which was created to “make voice recognition technology truly accessible to everyone,” as the company writes, helping those with speech disabilities and communication barriers better connect with the world.

Co-Founder and VP of Strategy Sara Smolley has a BA in economics and received her MBA from Israel’s Yonsei University — a clear-cut non-tech founder. Her brilliant innovation grew from the desire to do good in the world, first and foremost. From there, she used her business management experience to attract funding despite the hurdles that come with social impact enterprises such as Voiceitt.

“We face a particular challenge when it comes to funding; traditional VCs may not see the larger market potential right away, and the traditional investor community may be wary of the double bottom line objectives (doing good while doing well financially) that is the hallmark of companies like ours,” Smolley wrote in a piece for the Times of Israel.

“But those concerns have not prevented us from raising money. We have been able to raise funds through a creative combination of government grants, corporate cash prize competitions (like the Creator Awards), and investors who believe in our mission.”

Smolley used her business savvy to take an idea, turn it into a product, and attract funding. Her story is one of dozens in which a technological solution to a human problem influences non-tech innovation, which then pushes the tech community to develop the proper tools, inspiring further innovation. It’s a fantastic cycle, but only if both the tech and non-tech communities are pulling their weight.

They’re doing good in the world (and generating revenue)

The drive to do good and solve global issues was highly prevalent at the Alexa Accelerator demo. Bryanne Leeming, who has her MBA from Babson College in Boston and studied cognitive science and art history in her undergrad, founded Unruly.

This project, which is also a part of the Alexa/Techstars accelerator program along with Voiceitt, uses kinesthetic learning to teach children the basics of coding. The system involves electronic programmable floor buttons, recess-style movement, tablet programs, and a combination of lights and sounds to make learning fun and improve retention.

Leeming’s Unruly is perhaps the purest example of why the tech community needs non-tech founders: Her idea alone could bring in a new generation of developers with more experience than any that came before, and they’ll be ready to find technological solutions to real-world problems.

The way children learn is changing thanks to new tech developments.

They know there’s no better time than now

Moore’s Law says it all. The evolution of technology is infinite, but without application, breakthroughs will be irrelevant. It will be up to the non-tech community to bring forth the issues and possible solutions in their respective trades and occupations to make the most of these technological advancements.

Fortunately, it has never been easier to transform an idea into a product. These founders are testament to the fact that you don’t need to be embedded in the world of tech to generate an earth-shaking tech innovation. You have the vision, and you have the management experience — don’t let a lack of IT knowledge keep you from pursuing your dream.

The two non-tech founders listed above represent only a fraction of all entrepreneurs who have seen enormous success without any deep knowledge of IT. They may not originally have had the tech prowess, but they had the vision and they knew how to run a business. So, what’s stopping you from finding the same level of success?

More by Nitesh Agrawal

Topics of interest

More Related Stories