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Women Leading The AI Industry: You belong here!, with Shruti Gandhi and Tyler Gallagher

My biggest advice is more a request to every woman especially in the AI industry: YOU BELONG HERE!! Don’t be intimated by your confident colleagues. Without you our superheros in media would still look like men with big arms and women in short dresses. We need women to add their voice, perspective, solutions to the […]


My biggest advice is more a request to every woman especially in the AI industry: YOU BELONG HERE!! Don’t be intimated by your confident colleagues. Without you our superheros in media would still look like men with big arms and women in short dresses. We need women to add their voice, perspective, solutions to the AI applications. Women have the power to use AI to affect women’s health and diseases, fertility, fashion, media, law, and many other fields. So please stay and build fun things that others aren’t thinking about. You have a unique first hand experiences in those large industries.


As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shruti Gandhi, Array Ventures, Managing Partner. Shruti Gandhi is a professor in the CS department at Columbia University and founder of Array Ventures a data-driven venture capital firm. 6 of her portfolio companies have exited to companies such as Apple, Paypal, and Samsung with 10x returns. Shruti spun Array Ventures out of True Ventures. She is also an adjunct professor in the CS department at Columbia University, featured on Business Insider, BBC, Forbes, VentureBeat, and USAToday, and host of the Array podcast. When not investing, she is hacking on some app or thinking about ways she can be in many places at one time. Shruti also has an MBA from the University of Chicago, where she polished her finance skills and developed engineering knowledge in CS departments at Columbia University and Marist College.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?

I studied computer science in school but I started working with data in one of my early jobs out of college. AI is fundamentally powered by good large data sets. Before the iPhone days, I was working with some researchers at IBM Watson Labs who first developed a self learning location-based services platform that I used to build some amazing products like “who’s nearby?” What’s the closest restroom in a building? I started having a lot fun especially when I was once traveling for work alone and using my own product I found an IBM colleague traveling to Rio at the same time. I was in awe and I instantly dedicated my life to do building fun and useful products with data. In fact, I also did my masters thesis on using data to understand conversation patterns on a messaging platform. That love of data has continued for me to this day. As a venture capitalist I am funding companies that enable useful applications of data.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

In life, there are opportunities all around you that aren’t directly presented as opportunities. Sometimes these come in form of inefficiencies, projects others don’t want to take on, or something that just doesn’t sit well with you. I always wanted to ask questions, be curious, and get involved. That is how I learn and grow and hopefully you can do the same.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

Generally, I love projects that take advantage of big data to bring efficiencies in overlooked industries such as retail, finance, logistics, supply chain, etc. The fundamental requirement to solve problems in any of these industries to create access to clean actionable data. Often the data available needs to be prepared before a company can create insights. I have one such company, Openprise, that actually takes this data that is unworkable and cleans, de-dups, normalizes, and generally prepares the data for anyone with no-tech backgrounds such as marketing and sales teams to create applications that can help grow their userbase.

I also have been teaching a class to some students in the CS department at Columbia University and my students are working on some interesting ideas.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have so many people to thank especially people who believed in me even before I did. That kind of support goes a long way and you actually learn and grow so fast because you don’t want to disappoint the person who took that leap of faith in you. When I started Array Ventures some of my early investors were people who took such leap of faith and backed me with real capital that allowed me to launch one of the first kind of fund focused on data, AI, and machine learning, run by a woman. Those early backers were everyone from my professors at grad schools to founders who I backed and had exits, to people in the VC industry. I am forever grateful.

What are the few things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

AI is the basis of all innovation in the future. AI enables efficiencies to increase productivity. It allows humans to make decisions with various data inputs that would normally be a cognitive overload to our brains. it can help us with making predictions far out into the future and allows us to model various scenarios.

When the market crashes the companies that take advantage of automation and efficiencies in workforce and processes will survive.

Over last 100 years some highly repetitive tasks human have been performing can now actually be performed better and with more accuracy and higher productivity by leveraging AI in areas of manufacturing, robotics, labs, research, etc

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

1. Lack of diversity especially in gender, race, disabiliy can create AI that is biased. There was a perfect demonstration of this a few years ago when Microsoft launch a bot that rapidly became sexist and racist because of the biased set of users that started training it.

2. Poor training data from developing countries — Focus of AI with a western point of view and solving small subset of problems. For example, we lack genetic data from many countries thus not being able to solve for diseases prevalent in non-western countries.

3. Code of Conduct — In the race to win the AI revolution, countries and companies might sacrifice on ethics and create “bad” AI

4. AI for the masses — Ai currently feels like it takes away jobs and benefits people at the top to be more powerful, efficient, and all knowing.

5. Reskilling — While jobs will be taken away new jobs will be created and I am worried only the new grad might be trained in the new skills needed to work with robots, data, and models. We need a plan for the current workforce to learn new skills and continue to remain employed.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

Danger to humanity to me comes from the concerns I mentioned and I do think we need to start creating laws in anticipation of misuse of AI

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?

My biggest advice is more a request to every woman especially in the AI industry: YOU BELONG HERE!! Don’t be intimated by your confident colleagues. Without you our superheros in media would still look like men with big arms and women in short dresses. We need women to add their voice, perspective, solutions to the AI applications. Women have the power to use AI to affect women’s health and diseases, fertility, fashion, media, law, and many other fields. So please stay and build fun things that others aren’t thinking about. You have a unique first hand experiences in those large industries.

Without you marching ahead and breaking glass ceilings it will just be as hard for the next generation and we would have done them no favors. My request is for you to stay. If you have a fun AI project you want to work on I am with you and feel free to reach out to me (see ways to contact me below!)

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

It will take companies to look for talent in different departments such as statistics, analytics, data science, etc and to train them in additional AI skills to improve the pool of women in AI.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

One of my mentors once said imagine what kind of world do you want to live in and go fund those kinds of companies. That has always been a guiding factor in funding decisions I make.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter:@atShruti LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shrutigandhi/ Medium: https://medium.com/@atshruti/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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